First came a cloned cat. Then came the fish genetically engineered to glow.
Now, a Los Angeles company is exploiting the latest in biotechnology to create cats genetically engineered to be nearly free from the allergy-causing proteins that plague millions of people.
Allerca Inc. president Simon Brodie said by 2007 the company will use RNA interference to "silence" a gene in cats that produces the irritant, which is excreted through saliva and the skin.
Scientists researching everything from cancer to crops are using RNA interference to silence genes to create drugs, gene-searching tools and even a new way of decaffeinating coffee.
Now Brodie hopes to bring that same promise to the cat world and eliminate the need for allergic cat lovers to receive symptom-reducing shots while encouraging others put off by the allergy to buy a pet for the first time.
The company is now accepting $350 deposits for the British Short Hair breed of cats it plans to charge $3,500 a piece for in the United States and $10,000 each in Japan. Brodie said he hoped to ultimately sell about 200,000 of the genetically engineered cats a year. The four-person company has yet to engineer any cats, which will be spayed and neutered to prevent breeding with naturally born felines.
Using the genetically engineered pet fish as a guide, Brodie said he doesn't expect to run up against federal regulators. Neither the Department of Agriculture nor the Food and Drug Administration stepped into regulate the Florida-bred GloFish -- a common zebra fish that has been implanted with a fluorescent sea anemone gene -- because it wasn't meant for human consumption.
Federal regulators with the two agencies couldn't be reached late Tuesday.
"Obviously, things can change," Brodie said. "But as long as people don't start eating cats and they don't enter the food chain, then we should be handled like the GloFish."
By Paul Elias