mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)
mabfan

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
Tags: science
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