A controversial gene-editing technology, CRISPR, may soon provide the hope of owning a cat for the more than 15 percent of the world’s population that is allergic to them.
Researchers at the Virginia-based biotech company InBio are using the CRISPR to attempt to reduce human allergies to felines through gene editing. Thus far, their research has shown promising results in impeding the most common trigger of cat allergies - a sneaky little protein called Fel d 1.
When it comes to cat allergies, the allergen is normally thought to be a cat’s fur or dander. But scientists believe more than 90 percent of cat allergies are caused by the Fel d 1 protein, which is naturally present in a cat’s saliva and tears. The Fel d 1 protein is transferred to the cat’s fur when they lick themselves during daily grooming, and can then become airborne when dried.
Publishing their findings in the CRISPR Journal, the team at InBio states they have collected evidence that the CRISPR can safely and effectively create cats that produce little-to-no Fel d 1 protein.
There are two genes that code for Fel d 1: CH1 and CH2. In attempts to determine if the Fel d 1 is a candidate for safe gene editing, the research team analyzed the DNA of 50 domestic cats and 8 wild cat species. The results showed important variations between the species that indicate Fel d 1 may not be an essential protein - and may be viable for gene deletion.
"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," told Nicole Brackett, study author and geneticist at InBio, in an interview with BioSpace.
"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."
The first step in editing the CH1 and CH2 was done in cat cells inside a Petri dish, where the researchers deleted either CH1 or CH2. Per Smithsonian Magazine, the researchers’ next step is to determine if deleting both CH1 and CH2 simultaneously will successfully eliminate the Fel d1 protein.
If confirmed successful, the next step would be creation of felines without these genes - and we may be one step closer to a true hypoallergenic cat.