Thursday, September 15, 2011

Glowing cats

Over the last week or so, countless articles in the media have described the use of fluorescent kittens in a US laboratory—the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota—that carries out research aimed at protecting humans against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

I'm amazed and happily impressed by the apparent absence of critical fuckwit comments of the following kind:

Fluorescence isn't mentioned anywhere in the Bible. What is God going to think of this diabolical research?

What are cats going to think about the nasty idea of being fluorescent? Won't it screw up their ability to sneak up on mice?

What are certain human beings going to think about being expected to glow in the dark if they want to avoid catching AIDS?

Isn't there a danger that this green fluorescence might rub off onto the hands of children who cuddled such cats?

Seriously, many articles fail to explain—not clearly enough, in any case—that the jellyfish gene responsible for the fluorescence has nothing whatsoever to do with the monkey gene (obtained from a Rhesus macaque) that is being tested, using laboratory cats, in the fight against AIDS. The fluorescence thing is a mere marker. The kittens have been genetically modified in such a way that, either both genes—the jellyfish gene and the macaque gene—are present together, simultaneously, or both genes are absent. When lab workers, using a microscope, come upon cells that glow (extracted, in that case, from a kitten that was fluorescent when illuminated by a light source), then they can be sure that those cells also contain the all-important monkey gene. For the moment, the experimental work is carried out only upon fluorescent cells, to determine that they do indeed resist AIDS. Later, the moment of truth will be attained when live glowing kittens are injected with the feline form of HIV, referred to as FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). If everything worked well, it would be good news for cats. And the next step would consist of seeing whether the monkey gene could be used successfully upon humans… none of whom would be expected, of course, to glow in the dark.

Finally, I'm not sure that my brief attempt at explaining this research is any better than what you find in tabloid stories about fluorescent cats.

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