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Hypoallergenic Cats

I was fascinated by an article I read this morning in the New York Times, Cat Lovers Lining Up for No-Sneeze Kitties. Apparently, a biotech company in San Diego named Allerca has begun to sell hypoallergenic cats, or cats whose glands "do not produce the protein responsible for most human cat allergies."

Now, its no secret that genetic engineering has made some great strides in the past few years. We all know about Dolly the cloned sheep and Cc the cloned cat. But what fascinated and amused me about these hypoallergenic cats is that they weren't genetically engineered. They were engineered the old-fashioned way, by breeding.

Allow me to quote from the article:

Most human cat allergies are caused by Fel d 1, a molecule that has been sequenced and its gene mapped in the last decade. At first, Allerca scientists sought a method to delete or disable the gene.

But in testing to see whether the gene had been effectively silenced, they made a fortuitous discovery: A very small number of cats carry a mutant gene that produces a modified protein, far less likely to induce allergies.

At that point, the research shifted course. Allerca screened thousands of cats to identify a population with the modified gene and then set those cats to breeding. Because the mutant gene is dominant, the breeding cats could be mated with normal cats to produce hypoallergenic kittens. And no special licensing or government approvals were necessary.

So, for the past few months, Allerca’s small pool of hypoallergenic cats have been busy reproducing. Their breeding facility cannot be visited and “is at a secret undisclosed location,” said Ms. Young, Allerca’s chief executive.

Amazing, isn't it? Here we are, with all our advanced technology and modern techniques for manipulating the genome...and Allerca decides to create their cats by using a method of "genetic engineering" (phenotype engineering?) that has been around since the dawn of civilization. Even had they not been able to identify the mutant gene, this sort of breeding could still have been done. All you would need to do is find a population of cats that didn't induce allergies, breed them true, and hope for the best.

I'm also intrigued by what Allerca is trying to do to keep a monopoly on their cats. Since the mutant gene is dominant, if one of their cats got into the general population, it could start to sire or give birth to more hypoallergenic cats. Or some entrepreneurs could buy one of the cats, breed it with others, and undercut the company's prices with their own hypoallergenic kittens. So according to the article, Allerca neuters every kitten before delivery. They say this is to prevent feline overpopulation, but the Times and I know better.

We iive in a fascinating world, an age of scientific marvels and wonders, and sometimes it's far too easy to become blase about it all. Last night, I told Nomi about the reported experiment that had teleported a chunk of matter (as opposed to simply individual atoms) a distance of half a meter, and her response was a calm statement of, "Cool."

Copyright © Michael Burstein


Don't buy stock just yet. Two companies are working with DNA-based vaccines that could be used as a non-allergy specific allergy vaccine. It suppresses the "bad" allergic immune response and stimulates the "good" immune response, regardless of what it is that's actually causing it. This is also being tried in combination with common allergens like dust mites and ragweed.

I'm skeptical of the hypoallergenic kitties. It would probably be worth trying for someone with severe allergies who loves cats, but usually people develop multiple sensitivities. Since they're not required to back up their claims with clinical studies, the question of whether it actually works on a practical level is wide open.

Yeah, it's rather amusing that they are claiming that they only neuter for pet population reasons. Heh.

This also suggests that a cat-allergic person could simply take cats home for a "test drive" to see if they trigger allergies, and keep returning them until they hit on one that doesn't. If they can find several like this, they've got a small business. If they happen to have a little biological wet lab know how, like I do...they can sell their own hypoallergenic kittens. Hmmm.... I've always wanted to breed pets.
I hadn't planned to buy stock in the company; I don't even know if they're publicly traded.
Sorry. Didn't mean that literally. :-)
Ah. OK. I was wondering.

Personally, I tend to invest in companies whose products I use, so since I'm not planning on getting a hypoallergenic cat in the future...
Perhaps their cats come already spayed and neutered. So there's not any way to buy one and get one free. ;-)
They do. I noted that above, in the penultimate paragraph.
For some strange reason the last two sentences in that paragraph did not imprint on my short-term memory. :-(

Wonder if anyone's ever tried to undo pet sterilization.
Well, all you need is for the company that clones cats to buy one and clone it. Ta da! A breedable hypoallergenic cat.

Which is probably another reason why Allerca is being very careful about their prospective customers.
Allergy-free they may be, but how easily can they be waxed or herded? Otherwise they are of little use to a writer.
There are already allergy light cats and dogs. I own a keeshond, they are allergy light, I have a friend who breeds Siberian Cats in Calfornia, these are the cats this company is using as breeding stock. Not from her cattery, but from other breedings.

Any cat or dog that has a solid shaft 'hair' not hollow shaft fur - mostly the high northern breeds, is hypoallergic.

Both cats and dogs herd about as well as writers!

I was in and out of two houses with cats today, fixing pc's and being allergic to them was on my mind for an evening of nervous coughing, difficult breathing and maybe some eye problems.

Then as I was taking out the contact lenses I am trialling at the moment after todays 4hr slot, I realised that maybe I should have taken an anti-allergy tablet (i've got some that work for me!) as I could hardly see properly for about an hour the pain was so bad! I had my head tipped up dripping contact lens solution into my eyes for any comfort I could get!
I don't buy this. Everything I've read suggests that there's no such thing as a "hypoallergenic" cat. I don't think a single protein is responsible for the all the allergic reactions.

This article has more information.

Off topic comment

Hey Michael --

scarlettina and fjm suggested I ask you for help regarding a question I posted at:


Basically, I'm trying to sort out what the current Jewish year would be if the calendar system used prior to the destruction of the Second Temple had remained in place. According to Wiki, the calendar's lunisolar calculation system was modified repeatedly. In other words, would there have been 'slippage' with respect to sidereal time, as happened with the Julian calendar? Or is the issue the reckoning of festivals and holy days, rather than the actual count of the years?

Sorry for the grossly off-topic comment, but I don't have your email address handy.



Re: Off topic comment

That's a more difficuilt question than it appears on the surface, because the rise of rabbinic Judaism in the wake of the destruction of the Temple is what caused the creation of the fixed calendar. gnomi and I will do some research and get back to you. It may take a while because we just started the holiday of Sukkot...

Re: Off topic comment

Excellent, sir. I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience. May you have a fulfilling and appropriate holiday.

And thank you very much.

Re: Off topic comment

Without a final source list to back it up, this is my preliminary assessment:

The Jewish calendar would have all the same Biblical holidays it has now. We'd still count this year as 5767. However, a number of the post-biblical holidays and observances would be significantly different or nonexistent. These post-biblical observances include the fasts of the 10th of Tevet, the 17th of Tamuz, and the 9th of Av, Channukah, and Purim. The modern holidays (post 1948) of Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day would probably never have been established.

(I'm Michael's wife; he passed your question along to AskNomi because this is just the type of research I adore.)

Re: Off topic comment

Excellent! Thank you very much.
I already knew about the hypoallergenic cats, thanks to someone at work who is thinking of gettng one for her mom, but I had no idea Felds were responsible for cat allergies! Now, if only we could determine which member of the Feld family is #1...

December 2016

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