CRISPR Could Finally Make the First Truly Allergy-Free Cat
One company is working on a DNA-altering injection to give pets
Reengineering Life is a series from OneZero about the astonishing ways genetic technology is changing humanity and the world around us.
If you’re among the 10% of people who are allergic to cats, you can blame a protein found in cat saliva and skin. The pesky protein spreads when cats groom themselves and shed their hair and dander around the home.
Scientists and immunologists have been interested in this protein, known as Fel d 1, for decades because of its role in cat allergies. If they could figure out a way to stop cats from producing this protein, they could put an end to the sneezing, wheezing, and sniffling once and for all. Currently, the options for would-be cat owners with allergies are limited: Certain breeds of cats deemed “hypoallergenic” are not completely allergen-free, and allergy shots aren’t effective for many people.
But the gene-editing tool CRISPR has opened up new possibilities for the future of hypoallergenic cats. Scientists at one Virginia company, Indoor Biotechnologies, have successfully used CRISPR to delete the gene that tells the body how to make Fel d 1. Not to worry — no animals were harmed in the process. The team experimented on feline cells, not live cats, but the researchers say the method shows promise for real pets.
“We’ve been hypothesizing about what would happen if you could delete the gene from cats,” Martin Chapman, the CEO of Indoor Biotechnologies and a former professor of medicine and microbiology at the University of Virginia, tells OneZero. “What we hope will ultimately come out of this is a cat that is genetically modified so that it doesn’t produce Fel d 1.”
There’s been hope for hypoallergenic cats before. In the mid-2000s, biotech company Allerca claimed to sell hypoallergenic cats bred to produce less Fel d 1. But a 2013 ABC News report revealed that the cats — which cost between $4,000 to $28,000 — had similar levels of the protein as normal cats. One woman, who spent thousands of dollars on Allerca cats, told ABC News her children were so allergic to them that she had to give the cats…