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06-09-2006, 09:38 AM
Genetically modified cats for sale
Wednesday, November 3, 2004 Posted: 3:57 AM EST (0857 GMT)

(CNN) -- A California biotechnology company has started taking orders for a hypoallergenic cat for pet lovers prone to allergies.

The genetically engineered feline, which is expected to be available from 2007, is the first in a planned series of lifestyle pets, Los Angeles-based Allerca said in a press release.

Allerca hopes to attract customers among the millions of people worldwide who suffer from cat allergies.

Up to 10 percent of the U.S. population alone are believed to be prone to symptoms that can affect the eyes, nose, ears, throat, lungs and skin.

Many cat lovers ignore medical advice and discomfort and choose to keep the animals as pets, or use expensive medications to cope with their allergies.

Cat allergen is also one of the main causes of childhood allergies, asthma and other respiratory diseases such as bronchitis.

Cat allergies are caused by a potent protein secreted by the cat's skin and salivary glands. The allergen is so small it can remain airborne for months.

Using "gene silencing" technology, Allerca is able to suppress the production of the protein.

The first breed of hypoallergenic cats will be British Shorthairs, which are considered to be ideal pets with friendly, playful and affectionate personalities.

Allerca expects the first kittens to be born in early 2007 and is already accepting $250 deposits from interested customers.

Allerca president Simon Brodie told The Associated Press that he ultimately hopes to sell 200,000 of the cats annually at $3,500 each in the United States.

Brodie said the cats would be spayed and neutered to prevent breeding with naturally born animals.

He also said he didn't expect to have any problems with federal regulators after neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the Food and Drug Administration objected to the creation of a genetically-engineered pet fish because it wasn't meant for human consumption.

The GloFish, which went on sale in pet stores earlier this year, is a zebra fish implanted with a fluorescent sea anemone gene.

"As long as people don't start eating cats and they don't enter the food chain, then we should be handled like the GloFish," Brodie told the AP.

The genetic-engineered cat is the latest attempt to apply biotechnology to the lucrative pet industry.

In August, Genetic Savings & Clone -- another Californian company -- announced that it had successfully cloned two kittens from a one-year-old female Bengal cat and said it could clone anyone's pet for around $50,000.