CRISPR and CATS

Are you a cat person? Dog person? Both?

I always thought I was a dog person. Until we moved onto an acreage teeming with mice. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But when one of those little critters snuck into the house it definitely felt like I was under siege.) Enter Jupiter, an orange tabby we adopted from the SPCA.

Jupiter took care of the mice. He also brought a lot of love into our home. Along with a pile of fur.

ALLERGIES

Over 10% of people are allergic to cats. For them, the gentle purr of a feline friend comes with anything from sneezing and sniffling to skin rashes and asthma.

So what do you do if you love cats (or hate mice) but can’t breathe when Fluffy is around? The options are limited:

  • Antihistamines (pills you take every day)
  • Allergy shots (which only work for some people)
  • Natural remedies (read more about these options here)
  • Hypoallergenic cats (Although no cats are entirely NONallergenic, some hypoallergenic breeds are pretty cute. Then again, have you ever seen a sphynx cat?)
  • No cats (no comment)

For animal lovers, there has to be another way.

CRISPR

Most cat allergies are triggered by a specific protein found in cat saliva and skin. The pesky protein, known as Fel d 1, spreads when cats shed their hair and dander (a nice way of saying dead skin) through grooming.

For decades, scientists and immunologists have been fighting Fel d 1with everything from breeding programs to specialized cat food. None of these approaches have been entirely successful and some have been very expensive.

Enter CRISPR, a gene editing technology that can delete the gene that tells the body how to make Fel d 1. Using cells obtained from 50 cats (with help from the SPCA), scientists from Indoor Biotechnologies have shown this is actually possible. The early results are promising but more study is necessary to determine whether Fel d 1 does something important to cat well-being. Still, the US company is optimistic that a one-time injection could make your beloved pet Fel d 1-free in the very near future. 

Even if it doesn’t work, CRISPR could still provide other alternatives. Perhaps we could edit the human genome so the immune system isn’t triggered by Fel d 1. Or maybe it would be easier to gene edit the pesky house mouse right out of existence.

Ideas like messing with the human genome and editing an entire species into extinction come with a range of practical and ethical issues. If you’re interested in reading more about CRISPR—how it works, what it can be used for, and where we should draw the line—pick up CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA. The book is aimed at readers ages 14 and up but suitable for younger readers with an interest in science and adult readers wanting to understand the nuances of this powerful technology. It’s available for pre-order through Annick Press , online retailers and your local bookstore.  


Image credits: Marta Simon (pixabay.com), Clker-Free-Vector-Images (pixabay.com), K Whiteford (PublicDomainPictures.net)