A team of researchers claims that they’ve found an effective way to block the most common source of cat allergies using the gene-editing technology CRISPR. According to them, hypoallergenic cats can be just as healthy as a typical cat.
Allergies are most associated with the fur and dander that cats shed into the environment, but those aren’t the true culprit. A protein produced by cats called Fel d1 is thought to cause over 90% of cat allergies. Fel D1 ends up in their saliva and tears and, by extension, the fur that they’re constantly cleaning. This has made the protein an appealing target for scientists trying to reduce the burden of cat allergies, which may affect up to 20% of people.
Researchers at the biotech company InBio have been working on their own approach. They’re hoping to use CRISPR, to produce cats that simply make little to no Fel d 1. In their latest research, published in The CRISPR Journal, they claim that they’ve collected evidence that this can be done effectively and safely.
Analyzing the DNA of 50 domestic cats, scientists found regions along two genes primarily involved in producing Fel D1 that would be suitable for editing with CRISPR. When they compared the genes of these cats to those of eight wild cat species, they also found that there was a lot of variation between the groups.
That could indicate, that Fel D1 is not essential to cat biology and can thus be eliminated without any health risks.
Lastly, the team used CRISPR on cat cells in the lab, which seemed to be effective at knocking out Fel D1 and appeared to produce no off-target edits in the areas they predicted that edits would most likely happen.
“Fel D1 is both a rational and viable candidate for gene deletion, which may profoundly benefit cat allergy sufferers by removing the major allergen at the source”, the scientists said.
This isn\’t the first effort to create less sneeze-inducing cats. In early 2020, pet food company Purina released a series of cat food that’s been treated with an egg-based protein that inhibits the Fel D1 in their mouths. According to research, levels of Fel D1 in cat fur and dander drop by an average of 47% after 3 weeks.
Other researchers have been working on a vaccine for cats that trains their immune system to reduce levels of protein.
According to the authors, reducing the amount of Fel D1 produced by cats may be achieved in lots of ways. However, since as any cat parent knows, cats are constantly shedding fur, it’s still possible for smaller amounts of Fel D1 to accumulate in house dust and poses a major allergic threat. By targeting Fel D1 at its root using gene-editing, they argue, it may be possible to create truly hypoallergenic cats.
Of course, we\’re still in the beginning. The scientists plan to continue testing out their technique, both in the lab and in real-life cats genetically bred to have their Fel D1 knocked out.
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