Nature is reporting about “an event that will have some animal lovers cheering: the arrival on the market of long-promised ‘allergy-free’ pet cats.” These animals, with a price tag of $3,950 per feline, are a product of San Diego biotech Allerca, Inc.
Here’s how the company developed its kittens:
A glycoprotein, Fel d 1, secreted by the sebaceous glands, is the major cat allergen. This allergen is found in the fur, saliva, urine, mucous, salivary glands, and hair roots of the cat. The Fel d 1 gene present in normal cats is responsible for the production of this protein.
Starting with proprietary genetic technologies, the ALLERCA team began by focusing on the particular gene that produces the Fel d 1 glycoprotein. The process uses gene sequencing to detect naturally occurring genetic divergences in cats (see image below). ALLERCA then targeted those divergences that could potentially change the structure of the Fel d 1 allergen produced by the gene. Using sophisticated bioinformatics to manage feline breeding programs, the final stage resulted in cats with a divergent gene that produces a different version of the Fel D 1 protein (see Figure 1) – and a GD cat that no longer triggers the autoimmune system of people allergic to cats.
The next stage was to conduct controlled experiments exposing volunteers with known feline allergies to both ALLERCA GD cats and non-GD cats. The results? None of the human subjects exposed to the ALLERCA GD cats reacted in any way. When these same volunteers were exposed to non-GD cats, the subjects demonstrated classic symptoms of a feline allergic reaction, including watery eyes, runny noses, hives and itchy skin.
Although other genetic methods such as attempting to genetically modify the DNA of a cat may produce hypoallergenic cats, these procedures rely on nuclear transfer (cloning) and may result in associated known risks prevalent in cloned animals. The GD method adopted by ALLERCA is regarded as the most effective method of producing healthy hypoallergenic cats and is harmless to the animal.