Red Fluorescent Cat Cloned
By Cho Jin-seo
Researchers found a way to clone pet cats five years ago. Now they can play a trick on their genes to change their color.
A Gyeongsang National University team said they have succeeded in cloning cats after modifying a gene to change their skin color. Because of the red fluorescence protein in their skin cells, the three Turkish Angola kittens look reddish under ultraviolet light, the researchers said.
The red cloned cat research is expected to be utilized in dealing with certain genetic diseases in animals and humans. It will also help reproduce rare animals, such as tigers and wildcats, which are on the verge of extinction, the team said.
According to the team led by professor Kong Il-keun, three kittens were born in January and February by caesarian section, but one died during the procedure. They weighed between 110 and 136 grams at birth and now weigh 3.5 kilograms each now, the researchers said.
``We have proved our world-class ability in cloning animals that have modified characteristics,'' said Kong. ``We found that the red fluorescent protein in all the organs of the dead kitten, which means we have established an efficient way of cloning gene-modified cats.''
The first cloned cat, nicknamed Copycat, was born in 2002 at Texas A&M University. Many other animals such as cows, dogs, pigs, bulls and goats have been successfully cloned by a number of researchers in North America, Europe and South Korea.
Kong cloned a cat in 2004 for the first time in the country. He has since worked as director of research at a state-supported project to clone animals for therapeutic research.
To clone the Turkish Angola cats, Kong's team used skin cells of the mother cat. They modified its genes to make them fluorescent by using a virus, which was transplanted into the ova. The ova were then implanted into the womb of the donor cat.
Called reproductive cloning, the method has been mostly used in cloning animals that are genetically identical, until Kong's kittens were born with the tampered genes.
The technique differs from therapeutic cloning, which is to make a ``stem cell'' that can be guided to grow into a specific body part. Former Seoul National University professor Hwang Woo-suk used this method in his human stem cell cloning research, which was later found to have used fabricated data.