no wheeze, no sneeze cat

Cats. Anyone who's read this blog for a while knows I have a love like-hate relationship with cats. For one thing, they make me sneeze, itch, sometimes even wheeze. The other thing is that a pet is supposed to worship you--gotta love dogs for getting that right--and cats decidedly don't do that. No, not even a little.

What brings up this subject of cats and allergies is an article in the January Issue of The Scientist titled Felis Enigmaticus. Cute title. The article lightly reviews the science of producing "knock out" animals and more in-depth goes over the claims of Simon Brodie and his company Allerca. This is the company which made headlines last year with their claim that for $4,000 you could buy a hypoallergenic cat from them in the near future. That claim resulted in Time Magazine awarding Allerca's cat with one of Time's honorable mentions as the Best Discovery of 2006.

First of all, it's important to know what a knock out animal is. We use them in research all the time though mice are the most common species for this treatment. Knock out refers to genes. We can artificially remove a gene from an animals chromosones so that the protein that the gene codes for will no longer be created by that animal. If that protein is one that people are allergic to, then the animal is now hypoallergenic--at least in regards to that one protein.

The protein targeted by Allerca is Fel d 1, which is considered to be the principal allergen in cats with about 17% of the population being sensitive to it. The protein has only been found in cats and explains, at least to a degree, why cats are so annoying.

So far this all sounds pretty good--but that's where the article takes off. You see, Simon Brodie has a bit of a history. Brodie spent over 2 years in a British jail on a conviction for false accounting--essentially fraud. That was 15 years ago and since then he's moved here to the States and has been in and out of trouble ever since. Does this history mean that the hypoallergenic cats aren't real? Of course not--but it does move one to caution. LOL

A second problem that the article goes over is the lack of scientific proof being offered up. Allerca has been very forward with PR posts, and hyperbole about their cats but the little hard evidence that Allerca has published has been flawed. Inquires as to methodology have been given the cold shoulder and Allerca won't even disclose what scientific staff works for them. It certainly makes one think that the possibility for fraud exists here.

One of the reasons for this is that the cats that Allerca is marketing aren't knock outs. Sure, the original business plan was for knock out cats but back in 2004 Brodie and his partner, David Avner, a ER physician, had a falling out. As a result of the ensuing lawsuit, a Judge ruled that Brodie would no longer be allowed to use knock out cats. Almost immediately Brodie announced that he had discovered mutant cats that didn't express Fel d 1 in a form that was allergenic. Very convienient timing!

The article is very interesting and well worth reading. In the end, none of this proves that Brodie and Allerca don't have a hypoallergenic cat--but it's enough to make you very suspicious. Brodie sure does do great PR though.


carli said…
very interesting, utenzi. have you ever read the book Monkeyluv? It's a recent favorite, and it's all scienc-y.

Not only would I enjoy a hypoallergenic cat, but I would enjoy a cat who is not asthmatic himself. Waking up at 3 a.m. to a coughign kitty is not fun for either of us.
srp said…
I wrote one comment but it got stuck in the partial saved mode and may be floating out in the atmosphere somewhere.

I forgot to add the name of the book you might like... If you have ever read the original Phantom of the Opera or seen the Broadway musical that is...

The book is simply "Phantom" by Susan Kay. It is in the library and has different sections written from different points of view. I really thought the ending was much more satisfactory than the musical, but then I used to be a romantic. It may be considered a bit fluffy but I see that Harry Potter is under the cat's paws so I still think you might like it.
Noi Rocker said…
Looks like the cat is reading Harry Potter book. How can you not love that?

I love cats! They are the cutest creatures in the world!!
kenju said…
Dave, my cats practice a form of worship.....they follow me around the house like dogs, padding from room to room and lying down near me whenever I sit at the computer. You just haven't met the right cat - yet!
kenju said…
I fogot - Michele sent me this time.
Shephard said…
Funny! And very interesting. Fascinating actually.

Most people don't understand that there are demonstrative breeds of cats. Abyssinians, yellow tabbies, Siamese, who are very affectionate. I often read how cats are lumped together and labeled standoffish and independant.

My sister bred cats and was an Int'l Catshow Judge as well, and she'd always tell me how certain breeds were prone to "x" personality traits and affection. I've always thought that was interesting how dispositions come with different breeds of dogs and cats. Abyssinians are often called the dogs of the cat family, for example, becuase they will happily walk on leashes, follow you around, fetch, and show tremendous affection.

But you're so right, of course. "Worship" would be too strong a word to apply to a cat. But if you were to visit my house, you'd meet cats who are affectionate and definitely people-oriented.

I have this sign hanging above our panty.. it says, "A Cat is a Cat, and That is That."

Great read.
Shephard said…
er, that would be PANTRY, not panty. lol

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