NEW ORLEANS — Everyone knows that cats can see in the dark, but that wasn’t good enough for some New Orleans scientists. They produced Mr. Green Genes, a cat that glows in the dark and is destined to be more than just a novelty for Halloween parties.
He’s a nearly 6-month-old orange tabby but, under ultraviolet light, his eyes, gums and tongue glow a vivid lime green, the result of a genetic experiment at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species.
Mr. Green Genes is the first fluorescent cat in the United States, said Betsy Dresser, the center’s director.
The researchers made him so they could learn whether a gene could be introduced harmlessly into the feline’s genetic sequence to create what is formally known as a transgenic cat. If so, it would be the first step in a process that could lead to the development of ways to combat diseases via gene therapy.
The gene, which was added to Mr. Green Genes’ DNA when he was created earlier this year in the Audubon center’s laboratory, has no effect on his health, Dresser said.
Cats are ideal for this project because their genetic makeup is similar to that of humans, said Dr. Martha Gomez, a veterinarian and staff scientist at the center.
To show that the gene went where it was supposed to go, the researchers settled on one that would glow.
The gene “is just a marker,” said Leslie Lyons, an assistant professor of population health and reproduction at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, who is familiar with the Audubon center’s work.
“The glowing part is the fun part,” she said.