Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Pets that glow with more than just good health

Emily Anthes, a journalist and writer for the blog network of the Public Library of Science in the United States, discusses the scientific-and commercial-potential of glowing animals.

GloFish might sound like a quaint option for a pet, plucked - or perhaps netted - from a salty sea somewhere.

But it is actually a zebrafish that has been altered, genetically, so it contains a fluorescent protein gene. Place it under an ultraviolet light in a fish tank and it will glow.

Such a futuristic fish might form a suitable snack for Mr Green Genes, a genetically engineered glow-in-the-dark cat.

While some people might find creatures like these perfectly suitable as household pets - who wouldn't want to avoid stepping on kitty's tail in the middle of the night, after all? - what they may not know is that such animals have been part of research projects. The scientific aim has been to help endangered species, in some cases, and to fight diseases through gene therapy in others. Over time, the hope is, scientists may be able to find a way to insert healthy genes into people while removing potentially dangerous or unhealthy ones.

As a journalist and writer for the blog network of the Public Library of Science in the United States, Emily Anthes has long written about critters that glow. She is also the author of a book released earlier this year called Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts.

Here, Ms Anthes discusses the scientific - and commercial - potential of glowing animals:


Why have scientists spent so much time playing around with fluorescence genes?

Fluorescence genes are incredibly useful tools for basic research because they provide easily visible signals to scientists. For instance, scientists can engineer animals in which only certain kinds of cells or tissues glow. Researchers can then observe these cells more easily and track them over time. Or scientists can create animals that only glow when certain proteins are being made, allowing them to see when and where protein production is happening.


What were some of the first examples of animals that could glow?

Scientists first isolated the GFP [green fluorescent protein] gene in the 1990s, and then began moving it around the animal kingdom, but I'm not sure which animals were first. The scientists who "discovered" it subsequently won a Nobel Prize.


Why do you think consumers have been so fascinated with glowing animals, such as GloFish?

Glowing animals are strange, unusual and [to some people] also cool. They're like nothing else on the marketplace, and humans have a history of seeking out new and exotic animals. Glowing pets are just a modern, biotechnological version of that.


How great is the business potential for glowing pets in the marketplace, and what remains the biggest hurdle that prevents growth for this segment?

The biggest hurdle is the so-called "yuck factor". That's the instinctive aversion we sometimes have to biotechnological products. It's not necessarily based on logic, but the visceral, gut-level disgust that some people will feel when looking at, say, a neon cat, can be powerful. There's no doubt that some consumers will find glowing cats creepy, and I suspect the market for glowing cats and dogs will be considerably smaller than the market for glowing fish. My hunch is that GloFish don't seem so strange to us because there are plenty of species of fish that are naturally neon. On the other hand, a neon cat or dog is clearly an oddity.


Some people might find this work unethical. What are some of the concerns people have had, in your experience?

The objection I hear most often is that making a glowing pet is a trivial use of technology. In fact, this seems to be the primary reason that California decided to ban GloFish. The experts concluded that the fish posed virtually no risk, but the state's fish and game commissioners thought that because the fish were so frivolous, they represented an unethical use of genetic engineering.



Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 The Greens, villas: Q1 no change. 3BR - Dh210-250,000. 4BR - Dh210-260,000. 5BR - Dh220-300,000. Q1 2013-Q1 2014 5% rise. Pawan Singh / The National

In pictures: Where Dubai rents have risen and fallen, Q1 2014

Find out how rental prices in the prime locations in Dubai have altered during the first three months of the year and the current rates you will pay according to data provided by Asteco.

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

 The cooling towers of the Temelin nuclear power plant near the Tyn nad Vltavou in Czech Republic. The country wants to continue expanding nuclear energy capacity despite cancelling a tender to build two new units. David W Cerny / Reuters

In pictures: Best business images for the week to April 17, 2014

Here are some of the best business images for the week to April 17, 2014.

 Three generations of the Hakimi family tend to their stall Crawford Market in Mumbai. Subhash Sharma for The National

In pictures: Shopper’s delight at Crawford Market in Mumbai

Crawford Market is an old British-style covered market dealing in just about every kind of fresh food and domestic animal imaginable. Later on renamed Mahatma Jotirao Phule, the market remains popular among locals and visitors by its old name, taken from Arthur Crawford who was the first municipal commissioner of the city.

 The Wind, Energy, Technology and Environment Exhibition takes place from April 14 to April 16. Above, the Dewa showroom during last year’s Wetex. Jaime Puebla / The National

April corporate and economic calendar for the UAE and overseas

From Cityscape to Wetex to stock-market holidays to nations reporting first-quarter GDP figures, here is our helpful calendar of April's business events in the UAE and internationally.

 Get the latest information on credit cards, bank accounts and loan products in the UAE. Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

Rates report: Latest on UAE loans, accounts and credit cards

Souqamal.com brings you the latest interest rates on banking products in the UAE.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National