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Originally published October 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 22, 2008 at 8:38 AM

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Glowworms do it; now a cat can, too

Everyone knows cats can see in the dark, but that wasn't good enough for some New Orleans scientists. They produced Mr. Green Genes, a cat...

Newhouse News Service

NEW ORLEANS — Everyone knows cats can see in the dark, but that wasn't good enough for some New Orleans scientists. They produced Mr. Green Genes, a cat that glows in the dark and is destined to be more than just a novelty for Halloween parties.

He's a nearly 6-month-old orange tabby but, under ultraviolet light, his eyes, gums and tongue glow a vivid lime green, the result of a genetic experiment at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species.

Mr. Green Genes is the first fluorescent cat in the United States, said Betsy Dresser, the center's director.

The researchers made him so they could learn whether a gene could be introduced harmlessly into the feline's genetic sequence to create what is formally known as a transgenic cat. If so, it would be the first step in a process that could lead to the development of ways to combat diseases via gene therapy.

The gene, which was added to Mr. Green Genes' DNA when he was created earlier this year in the Audubon center's laboratory, has no effect on his health, Dresser said.

Cats are ideal for this project because their genetic makeup is similar to that of humans, said Dr. Martha Gomez, of the center.

In normal light, Mr. Green Genes — his name comes from Mr. Green Jeans, a character on the long-departed "Captain Kangaroo" television show — looks like any other feline.

But turn out the room lights and switch on some black light, and you can see glowing ears, nostrils, eyes and gums. Those body parts light up because the protein is more likely to express itself in mucous membranes, Lyons said.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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