"Hypoallergenic" Cats For Sale, U.S. Firm Announces

Rachel Pepling
for National Geographic News
June 9, 2006

The world's first hypoallergenic cats may soon be curling up and purring in the laps of allergy sufferers, a U.S. company announced yesterday.

Allerca, Inc., a biotechnology firm in San Diego, California, is now taking orders for its Allerca Gene Divergence (GD) kittens.

The cats are not transgenic animals—their genes have not been altered to make them less of an allergy risk.

Instead Allerca officials say they searched for natural variations in the cat gene that controls allergy-inducing properties and then bred cats with the desired trait.

Leslie Lyons, an assistant professor in the school of veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis, specializes in research on domestic cat genetics and is not involved with Allerca's work.

"People breed cats all the time, so why not a company who has used empirical data to identify hypoallergenic cats?" Lyons said.

"Siberian cats have been touted by breeders as being hypoallergenic for a long time," she said.

If Allerca used Siberians—or another low-allergen breed found through genetic screening—Lyons thinks a hypoallergenic breed could be developed in as few as "one to two crosses."

Megan Young, Allerca's CEO, said that the firm has simply "taken selective breeding to the next level."

Allerca officials are closely guarding their scientific data, and independent parties have yet to publicly verify the cats' hypoallergenic status.

But Young says human-exposure trials conducted by Allerca and an independent lab revealed that known cat-allergy sufferers ranging from mildly to highly allergic showed no signs of reaction when in contact with the newly bred cats.

She also notes that Allerca plans to submit its findings for publication in a peer-reviewed journal in early 2007.

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