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Cats with the ability to glow in the dark have enabled researchers to make tremendous efforts in the field of AIDS research. Dark cats that were specially engineered by a team of Mayo Clinic specialists to produce a protein that helps their bodies resist FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) are now helping in the fight for AIDS research.

Since FIV is similar to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), scientists merit the findings as a great step forward in protecting humans and preventing HIV.

A team of American and Japanese scientists from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine of Rochester, Minnesota and scientists from Yamaguchi University performed the research. The team injected an antiviral gene from a rhesus macaque monkey into the study cats, as well as one that produces the fluorescent protein GFP, which allowed them to glow in the dark.  The infection-fighting proteins from the monkey were able to fight HIV and FIV, which was proven effective when the cats started to glow.

It was discovered that the genetic protection in cats can be passed through to future generations because the engineered cats had kittens that were able to produce proteins against virus invasion as well. The kittens glowed in the dark as did their parents.

“We haven’t shown cats that are AIDS-proof,” study researcher Eric Poeschla, a molecular biologist and infectious disease specialist at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, said.  “We still have to do infection studies involving whole cats.  That the protection gene is expressed in the cat lymphoid organs, where AIDS virus spread and cell death mostly play out, is encouraging to us, however.”

Further research must be performed to determine if treatment and prevention of HIV in humans is in the near future based on the findings of these glow-in-the-dark cats. “This technology can be applied to a wide range of species, for many of which there are clear applications and potential benefits,” Dr. Laurence Tiley of the University of Cambridge said in a statement.

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