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November 16th, 2009:

Not Genetically Engineered: Domestic Cat

A non-transgenic cat. But then, so are all cats

A non-transgenic cat. But then, so are all cats so it wasn't a hard picture to find

Scientific Name: Felis silvestris ssp catus

Claimed Genetically Engineered Trait: Does not provoke allergic reactions (hypoallergenic)

The Reality: A company called Allerca used high thru-put screening to check lots and lots of cats to find one with a  broken copy of the gene that codes for one of the proteins people who are allergic to cats are most likely to react to.* After that they, presumably, used marker assisted breeding to introgress the broken gene copy into other cats, which they now sell for between $6,950 and $22,000.**

About Cats:

Siamese cat between two cool looking computers. Photo: Brian Landis, Flickr (click photo to view photostream)

Siamese cat between two cool looking computers. Photo: Brian Landis, Flickr (click photo to view photostream)

All of the felines in the world today shared a common ancestor between 10-15 million years ago. That’s comparable to the estimates of the most common ancestor of corn and sorghum two species of a plant that look much more similar than the house cat and the puma.

Cats with dark heads, tails, and legs (pattern associated with siamese cats) carry a mutant copy of a gene involved in the production of pigment. The gene can function normally, but only at slightly lower temperatures, and a cat’s extremities are generally bit cooler than its body. The coats of such cats will darken if they spend a lot of time outside during the winter, or, if you really wanted, you might be able to turn a siamese cat entirely white by keeping it in a sauna for months, though I’m not endorsing any attempt to verify that. (more…)