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Mr Green Genes and Genetic Engineering News
Under darkness and in ultraviolet light the eyes, tongue, and gum of Mr. Green Genes glow a vivid green colour. The cloned cat was created in 2008 by scientists at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans to help combat a range of diseases including cystic fibrosis. He's by no means the first glow-in-the-dark animal; others include Ruppy, the transgenic puppy that glows red.
The gene that was added to the cat's DNA codes for a protein known as green fluorescent protein (GFP). It is found naturally in the jellyfish Aequoria victoria and although its function in the marine creature is unknown, it is used by researchers as a genetic marker to study diseases and cellular processes.
The GFP gene was added to the cat when he was created and it has no effect on his health. Researchers embarked on this experiment to see if a gene could be introduced into a cat genome without causing any harm. He lights up as the lights go down so that scientists can see where the gene landed. If the procedure had failed then the cat would not have glowed in the dark, but it was successful and the gene is in every cat cell. All of his cells shine brightly, but because they are hidden under a fur coat it's only the eyes, ears, nose, and gum that can be seen in the dark.
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Genetic Engineering in Medicine
The scientists behind the glow-in-the-dark cat believe the technology is vital for the development of gene therapy to help combat animal and human diseases.
One of the challenges faced by gene therapy researchers is getting a desired gene to sit in the part of the genome where you want it to; this can sometimes be a hit and miss affair. A glowing marker such as a GFP gene could be tagged to a corrective gene, say one that could cure cystic fibrosis and both could be sent into the genome together. If the cell culture is bathed in ultraviolet light scientists will be able to see if the GFP gene (and therefore by inference the neighbouring CF gene) has reached its desired location.
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For the discovery and development of GFP in biology, three researchers, Martin Chalfie, Osamu Shimomura, and Roger Tsien were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008.