Scientists Are Using Gene-Editing Technology To Create Hypoallergenic Cats

Two kittens playing

via Wikimedia Commons

Two kittens playing

Cats have been our trusted friends throughout human history, from the homes of Ancient Egypt to the homes of modern-day millennials. However, for the 20% of people who are allergic to feline pets, that relationship is cruelly damaged. Surprisingly, an American biotech company is now attempting to fix this by manipulating cat DNA in labs.

Researchers at InBio, a Virginia-based firm, have already made significant progress in this area. They were able to stop cat cells in a laboratory from making the Fel d 1 protein, which is involved in 95% of allergy responses to cats, using a sophisticated gene-editing technology called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats). Cats release the protein through their tears and saliva, which are subsequently transported to their fur when they groom themselves. While the distance between deleting it from cells in a petri dish and eliminating it from living animals is large, Nicole Brackett, an InBio research scientist, wants to close it. This appears to be as easy as a short injection. InBio has undoubtedly picked the most promising instrument available to them. CRISPR has enabled scientists to locate and delete DNA at will. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to its creators, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, in 2020.

InBio, formerly known as Indoor Biotechnologies, intends to employ this award-winning technique to develop cats that generate little to no Fel d 1. Scientists investigated the DNA of 50 pet cats and discovered the two genes that produce the protein. They also discovered that protein isn’t required for the survival of cats.

The researchers are still confused as to why cats make Fel d 1. In the wild cat species they tested, the two genes that compose Fel d 1, CH1 and CH2, were discovered to differ greatly, suggesting that the protein isn’t required. In the end, utilizing CRISPR to remove Fel d 1 from cat cells in the lab had no negative consequences for the cats.

Other methods for making cats hypoallergenic have been tried before. Purina, a pet food manufacturer, developed kibble in 2020 that was enhanced with an egg-based protein that suppresses Fel d 1 as cats chew. After three weeks of usage, it was shown to be 47% efficient in eliminating protein from fur and dander decline. Other cat vaccinations now under investigation have a 50% success rate.

InBio’s ultimate goal is to find the most effective, efficient, and accessible solution possible. Even little levels of Fel d 1 present in shed fur cause allergic reactions in individuals. CRISPR has already been used to delete a comparable protein in mice with no noticeable negative effects.

InBio’s next step is to wipe both CH1 and CH2 from cat’s cells at the same time. They’ve only ever been able to eliminate one cell at a time in the past. After confirming that the simultaneous strategy totally eliminates Fel d 1 production, InBio will attempt to make cats without it.

While hypoallergenic cats remain a fiction, it appears that we are closer than ever to seeing them become a reality.