If you are one of the one in seven who suffer sneezing, itchy eyes and other symptoms from even the slightest contact with cats, take heart! Recent genetic research promises a way to block the genes that cause one of the major cat allergens.
The allergic responses are caused by a protein that cats secrete through their salivary and skin glands. When they clean themselves, the allergen is spread over their fur. It can become airborne when their coat dries and be around in the cat’s dander, or dried skin flakes. This explains why sensitive people can get symptoms just by being in the same room.
CRISPR is a gene-editing technology that enables scientists to add or remove bits of an organism’s DNA. It’s been at the forefront of developments that have revolutionised agriculture and human medicine.
Researchers in a US company are working towards using CRISPR to remove the bits of the DNA that give rise to the allergy-causing protein. This will pave the way to breed cats that produce little or none of the offending protein. Hypo-allergenic cats!
A lot of testing is still needed to be sure that removing the ability to produce this protein doesn’t deprive the cat of the ability to produce something that is important to its health. By comparing a range of domestic and wild cat breeds it was found that the amount of the protein in each cat varied very widely so this protein doesn’t seem essential for cat health.
The scientists involved are careful in saying that there is still some distance to go before the modified DNA is introduced into a live breeding program.
In the meantime, there is the prospect of relief from a different approach. One company is developing a vaccine to train a cat’s immune system to reduce the levels of the protein and another has a line of allergen-reducing cat food.
These are good news and might provide some releif in the short-term. Hypo-allegenic cats may be some years away yet.
If you would like to read more, check out this article in Gizmodo.