Mr. Green Genes is the first fluorescent cat in the United States, said Betsy Dresser, the center’s director.
The researchers made him so they could learn whether a gene could be introduced harmlessly into the feline’s 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 gene, which was added to Mr. Green Genes’ DNA when he was created earlier this year in the Audubon center’s laboratory, has no effect on his health, Dresser said. Cats are ideal for this project because their genetic makeup is similar to that of humans, said Dr. Martha Gomez, a veterinarian and staff scientist at the center.
Why a glowing cat?
To show that the gene went where it was supposed to go, the researchers settled on one that would glow.
The gene “is just a marker,” said Leslie Lyons, an assistant professor of population health and reproduction at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, who is familiar with the Audubon center’s work.
“The glowing part is the fun part,” she said.
Glowing creatures made international news earlier this month when the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three scientists who had discovered the gene through their work with jellyfish. They used the gene, whose formal name is enhanced green fluorescence protein, to see how things work inside animals and even inside cells.
Mr. Green Genes — his name comes from Mr. Green Jeans, a character on the long-departed “Captain Kangaroo” television show — is deeply suspicious of strangers. He spends most of his days napping, and he doesn’t like being held when he doesn’t want to be cuddled.
In normal light, the 7-pound cat, who lives at the center, looks and acts like any other feline.
But turn out the room lights and switch on some black light, and you can see glowing ears, nostrils, eyes and gums. Those body parts light up because the protein is more likely to express itself in mucous membranes, Lyons said.
“You can’t lose that cat at night,” said C. Earle Pope, the center’s senior scientist.
“The frozen zoo”
In theory, his litter box could glow, too, because cat droppings include epithelial cells, where the gene can be found. But there is entirely too much other stuff around them to allow for readily visible glowing without messy lab work, Gomez said.
The Audubon center started its animal-cloning experiments in 2001. Two years later, Ditteaux, an African wildcat, was born there. He was the world’s first cloned wild carnivore.
Cloning starts with cells — generally skin cells, Gomez said, because retrieval isn’t too invasive — and the cells’ genetic material is stored in a tank of liquid nitrogen where the temperature is 316 degrees below zero. The Audubon center has 12 such tanks of genetic specimens awaiting use;
Dresser calls them “the frozen zoo.”
For work with felines, eggs are collected from a donor cat — usually a domestic cat — and the DNA is removed and replaced. To create Mr. Green Genes, the fresh DNA included the fluorescent gene.
Then the fertilized egg is inserted into a surrogate mother cat for a pregnancy lasting 65 to 70 days.
After Ditteaux’s arrival, Gomez was invited to discuss it before a group of gene-therapy specialists, who, she said, were interested in the prospect of creating a genetic model for fighting diseases.
A tool to spot cystic-fibrosis
The Audubon scientists want to use their technique to develop a gene-therapy treatment for cystic fibrosis, an incurable hereditary disease for which, Gomez said, 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 what Gomez calls a “knockout gene.”
Work on this project is under way, she said. “We are getting some preliminary data, but we don’t have the full funds for it.”
Mr. Green Genes’ next role for the center will combine science and sex. He will become a stud so the Audubon team can determine whether the fluorescence gene can be transmitted. That should take no more than two breeding cycles, Gomez said.
“If he is fertile and if the female is fertile, it should be quick,” she said. “The idea is not to have a lot of green cats around, but to demonstrate that the gene can be passed.”
After that, he will retire to Gomez’s home, where two cats already live.
“I feel that he is my baby,” said Gomez, who led the team that created him.
“You have to realize that this is our first transgenic cat,” she said. “I don’t want him to go to just anybody. I feel he is mine.”
NY Times editorial. some excerpts:
The United States is battered and drifting after eight years of President Bush’s failed leadership. He is saddling his successor with two wars, a scarred global image and a government systematically stripped of its ability to protect and help its citizens — whether they are fleeing a hurricane’s floodwaters, searching for affordable health care or struggling to hold on to their homes, jobs, savings and pensions in the midst of a financial crisis that was foretold and preventable. ...
Mr. Obama has met challenge after challenge, growing as a leader and putting real flesh on his early promises of hope and change. He has shown a cool head and sound judgment. We believe he has the will and the ability to forge the broad political consensus that is essential to finding solutions to this nation’s problems....
In the same time, Senator John McCain of Arizona has retreated farther and farther to the fringe of American politics, running a campaign on partisan division, class warfare and even hints of racism. His policies and worldview are mired in the past. His choice of a running mate so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the
accomplishments of 26 years in Congress.
Given the particularly ugly nature of Mr. McCain’s campaign, the urge to choose on the basis of raw emotion is strong. But there is a greater value in looking closely at the facts of life in America today and at the prescriptions the candidates offer. The differences are profound....
It will be an enormous challenge just to get the nation back to where it was before Mr. Bush, to begin to mend its image in the world and to restore its self-confidence and its self-respect. Doing all of that, and leading America forward, will require strength of will, character and intellect, sober judgment and a cool, steady hand.
Mr. Obama has those qualities in abundance. Watching him being tested in the campaign has long since erased the reservations that led us to endorse Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries. He has drawn in legions of new voters with powerful messages of hope and possibility and calls for shared sacrifice and social responsibility.
Mr. McCain, whom we chose as the best Republican nominee in the primaries, has spent the last coins of his reputation for principle and sound judgment to placate the limitless demands and narrow vision of the far-right wing. His righteous fury at being driven out of the 2000 primaries on a racist tide aimed at his adopted daughter has been replaced by a zealous embrace of those same win-at-all-costs tactics and tacticians.
He surrendered his standing as an independent thinker in his rush to embrace Mr. Bush’s misbegotten tax policies and to abandon his leadership position on climate change and immigration reform.
Mr. McCain could have seized the high ground on energy and the environment. Earlier in his career, he offered the first plausible bill to control America’s emissions of greenhouse gases. Now his positions are a caricature of that record: think Ms. Palin leading chants of “drill, baby, drill.”
Mr. Obama has endorsed some offshore drilling, but as part of a comprehensive strategy including big investments in new, clean technologies.
Mr. Obama has withstood some of the toughest campaign attacks ever mounted against a candidate. He’s been called un-American and accused of hiding a secret Islamic faith. The Republicans have linked him to domestic terrorists and questioned his wife’s love of her country. Ms. Palin has also questioned millions of Americans’ patriotism, calling Republican-leaning states “pro-America.”
This politics of fear, division and character assassination helped Mr. Bush drive Mr. McCain from the 2000 Republican primaries and defeat Senator John Kerry in 2004. It has been the dominant theme of his failed presidency.
The nation’s problems are simply too grave to be reduced to slashing “robo-calls” and negative ads. This country needs sensible leadership, compassionate leadership, honest leadership and strong leadership. Barack Obama has shown that he has all of those qualities.