Monday, 21 May 2012

Transgenic cats with FIV-resistant gene help HIV research

Everyone has heard about AIDS. Everyone knows how deadly the disease is as there is, at the time of record, no cure identified. AIDS is caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that ruptures the host’s immune system, making the host susceptible to even the simplest form of disease.

Fortunately, a recent research based on transgenic cats has brought some good news to the society. This research is conducted by the researchers of Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester (Coghlan, 2011). In the research, three cats, named TgCat1, TgCat2 and TgCat3, are genetically engineered to glow in green under ultraviolet light (Coghlan, 2011). This is done by transferring the new genes through lentivirus to cat egg cells, which were then fertilized and implanted in a recipient mother’s womb to develop naturally.

The green-glowing cat under UV light. (Newscientist 2011)

For original picture, follow the link here.

This however, is not the main focus of the research. The highlight of this research is that these cats are also genetically modified to contain TRIMCyp in their genome (Coghlan, 2011). TRIMCyp is a gene originally found in rhesus monkeys that codes for resistance to feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) that causes cat AIDS (Coghlan, 2011).

An experiment revealed that the white blood cells of these cats are immune to FIV (Coghlan, 2011). Although it has not been tested on the full body system of the cats, the leader of this research, Poeschla (cited in Coghlan, 2011) stated that this discovery is greatly significant as the leucocytes is where HIV attacks the system in human body. Besides that, a breeding attempt between the male TgCat1 with a normal cat showed these transferred genes are successfully inherited by their offspring (Coghlan, 2011).

This research produced an important piece of results as it proposed a promising way to combat the spread of HIV. A similar method to this can be applied on human to generate artificial resistance to HIV in the system. The TRIMCyp gene can be altered so that it codes for immunity against HIV in human body. Alternatively, researchers can also attempt to identify genes in other species that result in immunity against HIV and then transfer these genes into human genome. Yes, conducting transgenesis on all humans sounds impractical and expensive. Therefore, an alternative way of transferring genes can be applied. An example of this includes viral vector, which, most likely, will allow rapid spread of genes at a low expense. The fact that these introduced genes are inheritable also poses an advantage in spreading the genes. Offspring of adults with new genes automatically inherits the new genes without having to undergo transgenesis. In other words, all humans will eventually have the resistance genes contained in their genome at birth as the generations proceed!

These findings result in a huge advance in researches on HIV. Admittedly FIV is less similar to HIV than SIV in monkeys; however this effort should not be disregarded as it is an important concept that can be modified to suit the mechanism of HIV.

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