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Glowing kittens may advance AIDS research

Mix cat, monkey, and jellyfish genes and you get glow-in-the-dark kittens that may advance AIDS research.

Mayo Clinic

Benjamin Franklin once advised a friend to take older women to bed because, figuratively speaking, "in the dark all cats are gray." Well, not these kittehs.

Researchers in the U.S. and Japan have developed green-glowing kittens with resistance to the feline version of AIDS, which may help work on AIDS research in humans.

In a study published in Nature Methods, researchers from the Mayo Clinic and Yamaguchi University took a genome approach to producing cats that are apparently resistant to feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a deadly condition that attacks infection-fighting T-cells as AIDS does.

The researchers including Mayo Clinic molecular biologist Eric Poeschla inserted genes into feline eggs before sperm fertilization. They added a gene for a rhesus macaque protein, known as a "restriction factor," that can prevent infection by FIV, and a jellyfish gene for tracking the cells that also makes the kitties glow a spooky green.

When cells were taken from the cats and exposed to FIV, they were found to be resistant; the animals themselves will also be exposed to the virus in the future.

The cats produced the defensive proteins throughout their bodies and have had kittens who also carry the protective genes.

"This specific transgenesis (genome modification) approach will not be used directly for treating people with HIV or cats with FIV," the Mayo Clinic said in a release, "but it will help medical and veterinary researchers understand how restriction factors can be used to advance gene therapy for AIDS caused by either virus."

And researchers won't soon lose their cats in the dark.