Genetically Modified Pets

Many people have been concerned about the health effects of genetically tweaked fruits and veggies, but a recent advancement in genetic modification involving household pets has raised hackles for its ethical implications.

The San Diego–based Allerca, Inc. has created “hypoallergenic” cats—that is, cats that don’t produce the glycoprotein responsible for inducing itchy eyes, sneezing, and hives. One of these kittens will set you back $3,950, a few hundred times more than picking up a stray at the local shelter. Like modified produce, Allerca’s cats have their undesirable genes silenced—in this case, by altering the recipe for glycoprotein normally found in fur and saliva. These cats have cells that destroy the chemical, rather than produce it. Unlike genetically modified foods, the modified cats don’t affect human health—beyond the absence of sniffles and sneezes, that is.

The effect on the cats is a different story, however. “Developing a hypoallergenic cat is far from a perfect science,” says Tracie Letterman, executive director of the American Anti-Vivisection Society, which opposes animal testing. “There is no guarantee that these animals will live average, healthy life spans.”

In addition, she says, gene silencing is typically a trial-and-error process—some of the altered animals are likely born unhealthy or deformed, or don’t exhibit the allergy-free traits scientists seek. Each time this happens, researchers go back to the lab to tweak another part of the genetic profile, and while each failure brings them closer to success, the outlook isn’t so bright for the animals that don’t live up to spec. Allerca’s lab practices aren’t public, but in a typical laboratory, says Letterman, “animals who do not have the ‘right’ profile are likely to be considered nothing more than by-products.” And byproducts, by and large, are destroyed.

So what about the animals who turn out “right”? Allerca cats will, in theory, lead normal kitten lives: Romping with yarn balls, scratching up couches, and getting checkups at the neighborhood vet. This poses another problem—as Letterman points out, “general veterinarians have no specialized training in the care of genetically altered animals, and they may not be prepared to treat ailing hypoallergenic cats.” Their owners will be similarly challenged. Maybe genetically modified pets will have some effect on humans, after all.

Plenty is an environmental media company dedicated to exploring and giving voice to the green revolution that will define the 21st Century. Click here to subscribe to Plenty.

By Erika Villani, Plenty magazine


Barbara V.
Barbara V6 years ago

Oh, for Pete's sake, more stupidity. They aren't satisfied messing around with fruits and vegetables, they've got to start on cats now. God only knows what the results will be in a so-called "science" where they don't know what the hell they are doing. And that won't stop the idiots. One of these days they'll start on humans. Why the world won't live and let live is absolutely beyond me.

Hilary E.
Hilary E6 years ago

not cool, if you're a cat person get a Mi Ki. They are a naturally hypoallergenic breed of small dog that has very cat like tendencies. They are quiet, groom themselves, etc...

Mara C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Here come the Frankencats! I wonder how many Paris Hilton will buy?

Melinda offline K.
Past Member 6 years ago

There are already fur-less cats so why would this be necessary anyway. Like Max Z says the whole story is bogus.

Max Zacher
Maxwell Z6 years ago

The person who wrote this article clearly did no research on it. Allerca does not claim to sell genetically-modified cats. They are simply selectively bred to have lower levels of the allergenic protein, just like any other cat can be selectively bred for certain traits. No biotechnology is involved. Not only that, but Allerca was long ago revealed to be a scam company created by a known con artist, and many people ordered these cats only to receive ordinary cats or no cat at all. It is uncertain whether even selective breeding occurred. They also sold hyper-expensive "Ashera" cats, which they claimed to be hypoallergenic, and it turned out that these were simply Savannah cats bought from a breeder and sold as something else at an exorbitantly high price.

Elizabeth P.
Elizabeth P7 years ago

This is cruel and it is aniaml abuse, selfishness on our part along with greed. These genetically modified aniamls dont live as long as a natural aniamls. They founded that out when they cloned the sheep in england with some other sad findings.

Alicia Jewhurst
Alicia Jewhurst7 years ago

Tired of sneezing? Buy a fish.

Tammy Davis
Tammy Davis7 years ago

good and bad

Gita Sasi Dharan
Gita Sasi Dharan7 years ago

Ban genetically modified animals and pets. It is criminal to do such things. Why not get the genes altered in a lab and become a hypoallergenic individual oneself, leave the poor animals alone. I had several cats.dogs, chicks pigeons, squirrel, white mice, tortoise, fish , even a hedge hog as pets all my life and I never had any health problem due to my pets.

Annemarie H.
Annemarie Haner7 years ago

Well, animals may be perfect, (?) but that doesn't mean they can't be imporved in certain ways. We breed cats to get gentle loving creatures, and we do get them. But then you have the problem of allergies. This is not a small thing, especially as you get older.

We have two inside cats and one garage/outside semi feral cat, all rescues. The two insiders want to sleep with us, and frankly we love their purring and cuddeling, but the allergies are getting worse. So I'm getting to the point where I don't let one of the cats in the bedroom. (my husband won't let me keep HIS cat out of the bedroom, and since it snuggles to him what can I say)

I would dearly love to have a cat that I could love without red itchy eyes and sneezing and a sometimes terribly stuffy nose that won't let me sleep. I would love it enough to consider paying $4K. (what price love???)

And as Mike the geneticist says, the article just is wrong in its assumptions. Of course we will use genetics to improve living things. My lord we are using it to improve ourselves and stop diseases now.

Change is inevitable. And that's one of the few things you can count on. More folks will be able to have cats. More cats will be loved and happy. Good deal for everyone. Bravo Allerca!