Tag: vaccine

Why Creating ‘Hypoallergenic Cats’ With Gene Editing Is A Bad Idea

On paper, the promise of “hypoallergenic cats” sounds great.

For the first time, people who love cats but are allergic to the furry little guys would be able to open up their homes to them. More cat lovers and more homes for cats is always a good thing, right?

Maybe not in this case.

The quest to create cats who do not trigger allergies depends on CRISPR gene editing, a method that allows scientists to edit, delete and replace sections of the genome. In this case, Virginia-based biotech company InBio wants to edit the genome of domestic felines to block Fel d 1 (Felis domesticus allergen I), a protein produced in cat saliva and in tiny subdermal exocrine glands, which secrete the protein via the same ducts that allow a cat’s fur to grow out from its skin.

Since cats are fastidious neat freaks and groom themselves constantly, the Fel d 1-carrying saliva is applied to their coats several times a day. When it dries, it contaminates a cat’s living space by flaking off the fur as dander or by shedding.

That’s why people who are allergic to cats can suffer symptoms like sneezing, itching and watery eyes not only from petting them, but also from spending time in homes where cats live.

What does Fel d 1 do, and why do cats need it?

The problem is that no one knows why cats produce Fel d 1 and what purpose it serves. Other proteins, like Fel d 4 found in pheromones and Fel d 2, help cats communicate by scent and prevent certain fluids from leaving the bloodstream, respectively.

Take a look at this quote from Nicole Brackett, a geneticist at InBio: (The emphasis on certain words is ours)

“The gene sequences don’t appear to be that well conserved over the course of evolution, which suggest things about whether or not the gene is essential,” Brackett told BioSpace, a life sciences publication. “An essential gene, one that would be required for survival or viability, generally doesn’t change much over evolution, and we’re seeing change between the exotic and domestic cat that suggests that maybe those sequences are not conserved, and maybe the protein is not essential.”

While we understand scientists have to be circumspect, especially regarding research that breaks new ground, that’s a lot of hedging and a lot of uncertainty. (It’s also not clear if Brackett is comparing domestic feline Fel d 1 levels to wild cats — felis sylvestris and lybica — wild felids in general, or hybrids like Bengals and Savannah cats, which are more commonly called exotics.)

cute cat lying on pillow
Credit: cottonbro/Pexels

The team members developing the allergen gene edit assume Fel d 1 doesn’t have a critical function because individual domestic cats and other species of felids may produce different quantities of the protein.

But that’s a huge assumption, and it’s also presumptuous to assume we humans would know whether the gene edits have a major impact on felines. After all, we still don’t always know when cats are in pain or the reasons for many of their behaviors, and we don’t know what sort of cascade effect can be triggered by shutting down the production of a protein.

The race to make cats hypoallergenic

Companies see a huge opportunity for profit in the cat allergy alleviation market. Last year, Purina announced to much fanfare the availability of a new kind of cat food the company claimed would drastically reduce allergens after about three weeks of putting kitties on the new grub.

The claims haven’t been independently verified, and most press coverage is either credulous or consists of marketing masquerading as news coverage, like this advertisement from Purina that is presented like a news story in USA Today.

Back when a company called HypoCat announced it had conducted successful trials of a “vaccine” that would “neutralize’ Fel d 1, we spoke with immunologist Kamal Tirumalai, who pointed out that humans making such profound changes to companion animals for the sake of human convenience “passes neither the scientific nor the moral smell test.”

Like others, Tirumalai said she worried about unintended consequences.

“A vaccine given to cats to reduce their allergenicity for humans burdens them unnecessarily when human allergy to cats is primarily a human problem and should have a human solution in the form of reducing people’s cat allergies,” Tirumalai told PITB at the time. “Cats are perfect as they are. Why should they be the ones forced to change in order to be accommodated by a human whose immune system happens to have a problem with one of their proteins? This solution just doesn’t pass the moral smell test.”

HypoCat uses an injection to “induce anti-Fel d 1 antibodies in the cat,” while the CRISPR technique would snip the relevant DNA out entirely.

Buddy
“Come now, let us not be absurd. Do you really think a designer kitten could be as handsome as I am?” Credit: Big Buddy

So far, Brackett and her colleagues have deleted one of two cat cells that produce Fel d 1 in samples in a petri dish, and have not made any changes to live animals. The experiments yielded a “55 percent knockout rate” for the Fel d 1 allergen, Brackett said, “which we were really happy with.”

Designer kittens: Gattaca for cats

If subsequent attempts are successful and the company sees commercial promise in editing feline genes, the process could be used to create “designer kittens” or to alter the genomes of existing cats. Brackett told Smithsonian magazine that the goal is to accomplish the latter.

But if it turns out the edits don’t work for existing cats, or the designer kitten trend becomes a thing, there’s another major moral concern similar to the objections to cat cloning. If people buy designer kittens, they’re not opening their homes to the millions of cats who need them.

Manipulating feline DNA isn’t a novel idea. A decade ago, a research team spliced genes from jellyfish using a different method to create cats who glow in UV light as part of a study into feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

Ultimately it comes down to what we’re willing to do for the sake of our own convenience. At a time when declawing has finally been outlawed in two states and dozens of cities, and people are more conscientious than ever with regard to their pets, do we want to risk their health so we don’t have to pop a few Benadryl?

Buddy Quarantines His Human After Learning Cats Can Get COVID

NEW YORK — Citing a recent article about the possibility of humans infecting their pet cats with Coronavirus, Buddy the Cat took the extraordinary step of quarantining his human, sources said.

The tabby cat, who is normally infamous for his deep loathing of barriers, had constructed an elaborate series of intra-apartmental checkpoints and procedures designed to keep him separate from his human, Big Buddy.

Under the new procedures, Big Buddy was banned from his own bedroom and had his snuggling privileges revoked.

“I just can’t take the chance, especially not with this Omicron variant infecting everyone,” Buddy said of his decision. “It’s not just about getting sick. Did you know sometimes COVID destroys your sense of taste and smell? It’s true! What life is worth living if you can’t taste every delicious morsel of turkey, if you can’t savor the aroma of dirty socks?”

As of Friday, the cautious cat had placed ads on Craigslist and other local sites.

“Seeking Temporary Servant,” the ad reads. “Must serve my meals, clean my poops, feed me snacks, allow me to sleep on you, and give me massages while telling me what a good boy I am. Applicants must agree I am a very handsome cat, and you will be expected to write a short essay about why you’re excited to serve me. THIS IS NOT AN ENTRY LEVEL POSITION. Experienced cat servants only!!!”

Cat in mask
“Back away, human, and return to your designated quarantine zone!”

The new quarantine measures mark the second time Buddy has taken drastic action in response to fears about COVID. The silver tabby constructed an air tight, clinically sealed dome around his food and water bowls in November after three snow leopards at a Nebraska zoo fell ill and died from the virus.

A second, larger dome meant to encapsulate his human’s his bed was under construction when Buddy was convinced to delay his plans for the holidays in order to spend time with friends and family. Now construction on the bubble has resumed.

Pharmacy techs at CVS refused to vaccinate the domestic shorthair after he showed up for an appointment in early January. A spokesman for the pharmacy chain said the vaccines were not FDA approved for cats, and Buddy isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.

Meanwhile, efforts to get Big Buddy to secure a dose for Buddy have been fruitless.

“I’m not asking much,” Buddy said. “All I want him to do is steal a vaccine from a highly secure area, educate himself on how to inject me, calculate an appropriate dose for my species and body weight, and give me the jab. How hard is that?”

Poll: 1 In 3 Cats Refuse Vaxx Jab Over ‘Big Vet’ Fears

WASHINGTON — Citing concerns about “Big Vet” and the industry’s role in the global pandemic, one in three American cats say they won’t get vaccinated, a new Mew Poll found.

Many of the cats who participated told pollsters they’re suspicious of the vaccines, while others latched onto conspiracy theories or insisted “natural” remedies would yield better results.

One veterinarian’s Facebook post went viral after detractors insisted there was nefarious intent behind it.

“Come on in and get your kittens vaccined, neutered and microchipped,” the post read. “Plenty of appointments available!”

“I knew it,” one feline user responded. “Gill Bates wants to jab us, chip us and sterilize us! They’re not even trying to hide it anymore!”‘

Bates, the billionaire founder of MicroClaw, has been the subject of many conspiracies involving the virus and vaccine. Most allege Bates wants to sterilize all non-breed cats and claim all the world’s futons for himself.

Other versions of the conspiracy claim Bates owns all the world’s cat food manufacturers through subsidiaries and shell companies, and caused the pandemic by placing inert virus particles in kibble.

In a popular Youtube video with more than 7 million views, a feline narrator asks: “Have you noticed dogs aren’t getting sick, but we are? The Mayan calendar predicted this plague, and a famous Nostradamus quatrain warns of ‘a new self-proclaimed king who wears glasses, steals operating systems and rules Friskies and 9Lives with an iron paw.'”

Cat Vaccines
Gill Bates has been pushing cats to get themselves vaccinated.

Other conspiracists alleged Dr. Anthony Meowci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert, has been working with the Siamese to install 7G chips in cats who agree to be vaccinated, in an effort to track the population and send subliminal messages directly to victims’ brains.

“Then before you know it you’ll be carrying a copy of Chairman Meow’s Little Red Book everywhere you go,” one prominent anti-vaccination catfluencer wrote on TasteBook. “Ask yourself: What’s Meowci getting out of this? A new cat condo and a lifetime’s supply of ‘nip? A fleet of brand new Roombas?”

Some opportunistic cats have exploited the vaccine skepticism, sensing a business opportunity. Among them is Blinkety Blink, prosperity preacher Joel Osteen’s cat, who is selling “Miracle Catnip Infused Healing Water” online for $89.95 a bottle.

The product can “cure COVID, UTIs, anxiety and even make your coat look smoother,” Blinkety Blink claims in a slick advertisement before jumping into the arms of his beloved human, who praises him for being a shrewd businessman.

“Big Vet doesn’t want you to know about this simple, cheap and effective cure,” Blinkety Blink said. “They want to pump more chemicals into your body, which will make you poop more, which means they sell more litter. It’s all connected!”

Osteen and Blinkety Blink
Osteen pictured with his cat Blinkety Blink, his private jet and his second mansion in Florida.