Green, Glowing Kittens Contribute to HIV Research, Look Adorable

By Veronique Greenwood | September 12, 2011 1:35 pm

These wee green kittens not only glow, they’re resistant to the feline version of HIV.

Scientists exploring possible treatments for HIV have, purely as a byproduct of their methods, earned themselves a spot in today’s science blog postings: They’ve made glowing kittens.

When these green kitties were still twinkles in their parents’ eyes, scientists investigating a macaque gene thought to protect monkeys against feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) inserted it into cat eggs with a lab-grown virus, intending to test whether cats carrying the gene were resistant to FIV as well. Researchers are interested in seeing how the macaque gene guards against FIV, which is the feline version of HIV, in hopes of transferring their insights to combating HIV.

But here’s where things get wacky: The team also included in the virus a jellyfish gene that makes a glowing green protein, to act as a signal. The virus does not always succeed in transferring the genes entrusted to it, but by including the jellyfish gene, the team gave themselves an easy way to tell when the transfer took place: kittens that glow green under fluorescent light, showing that they carry the jellyfish gene, almost certainly carry the macaque gene as well.

The green kittens grew up into green cats, whose claws,
in particular, show high levels of green protein.

The eggs were fertilized with sperm from a non-fluorescent tomcat and implanted in female cats, and five fluorescent green kittens were born, out of a total of eleven embryos (three now survive, as one was stillborn and another died during birth). That overall 23% success rate is surprisingly large, since the only other proven way to make transgenic cats, adding new genes to a nucleus from a non-egg cell and then swapping it into an egg, has a success rate of only 3%.

What’s more, when the kittens with the macaque gene were infected with FIV, the virus had trouble replicating, suggesting that whatever the gene is doing, it can do it in cats as well as monkeys. Next on the agenda: finding out what, exactly, the mechanism is.

Fluorescent reporter genes are a fairly common way to make sure that your gene transfer “took”—we’ve seen glowing pigs, monkeys, and mice before. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an amazing effect. If someone offered us a glowing, FIV-resistant kitten for our office, we wouldn’t say no.


Images courtesy of Nature Methods, Wongsrikeao, et al., and Mayo Clinic


  • Dcallaway

    I want one..stamps feet

  • Cat-toure

    These cats are bugging looking =^_^=

  • Sara

    Am I the only one who thinks animal testing is cruel?

    • Jsantaskas

      i hate animal testing but if the lights go out and always use your glow in the dark pussy..hahaha

    • DesertCats

      Yeah, my first thought is they’re the cutest (and they couldn’t sneak up on you in the dark no matter how hard they tried). But I just hope they all get to live as natural a life as possible, and that testing for HIV resistance doesn’t require anything more radical than a blood draw…and they aren’t stuck in cages for their entire lives.

  • Guruofchem

    Enjoy them today, for the aliens will be coming to pick up their pets soon…

    Personally, I think they should setup a corporation and market this – there’s gotta be a pile of cash in this somewhere…

  • Anonymous

    Want!   If they need to fund their research, just breed glowing kitties (no macaque genes necessary).  I bet people would pay a ton of money to have one of these as a pet.

  • A.

    Is there a way I can adopt one of these?! BTW – animal testing needs to happen. As cruel as it may be, it’s the step before human testing, would you rather do experiments on lab children? I don’t think so…

    • three

      Yes, I would rather we test on humans. Animal testing does not need to happen, we choose to use other living members of this planet who cannot say “no” simply because we can. Do not confuse need with choice. 

  • Cris T

    Fascinating bit of research but it only teaches us about feline immunodeficiency virus and simian immunodeficiency virus, not HIV. It’s a lot of money to spend on curing diseases in cats and monkeys. Let’s try tissue cultures from HUMANS.

  • Melinda Banks

    I do too!!!! At least I wouldn’t be tripping over the poor thing at night!

  • Dairy

    i want a siamese

  • Lynnb.

    are the poor kitties that survived healthy as of this date,and where are they now?can you post more recent pics .dont believe in too much research stuff,if it harms the animals…but why not find a resistant cat that has a strong imune that has never been sick,but been around others that gotten sick over and over again..i have a cat like that,and he never even had a sneeze,even tho.he been exposded to herpies,poss.fip,etc..i still can understand it myself.and hes a pic of jasper….healthy sence born around may 2010 as a kitten rescued from outside as a feral…along with his sister…

  • Allemad

    They took a big risk doing this to cats… but just look at the result!

  • a nicole

    having the green gene in the CLONED cats is completely harmless and painless to the animal.


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