Under normal light, he looks like any other orange tabby. But turn on the black light, and just like a vintage black velvet Elvis poster, Mr Green Gene’s eyes, gums and tongue glow a vivid lime green, the result of a genetic experiment at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species. (No, he hasn’t been injected with anything; he’s been bred for this.)
The researchers developed him so they could learn whether a gene could be introduced harmlessly into the felines genetic sequence to create what is formally known as a transgenic cat. If so, it would be the first step in a process that could lead to the development of ways to combat diseases via gene therapy.
The Audubon scientists want to use their technique to develop a gene-therapy treatment for cystic fibrosis, an incurable hereditary disease for which there are no gene-therapy models. The fluorescence gene will go alongside the cystic-fibrosis gene and make it easy to spot. The long-term goal of this process, for which there is no timetable, is the production of a knockout gene.
Next up for Mr. Green Genes: life as a boy toy. He’ll become a stud so that the Audubon team can determine whether the fluorescence gene can be transmitted. That should take no more than two breeding cycles. After that, Mr Green Genes will retire to a happy life as a housecat, living with Audubon Center’s veterinarian and staff scientist, Dr Martha Gomez.
Check him out: