A glowing bunny sounds like a creature from Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic-laced song, “White Rabbit,” but real fluorescent rabbits were recently born at the University of Istanbul, Turkey.
Rabbits join a growing list of fluorescent fur-bearers. Genetic engineers have created glowing dogs, cats, pigs and mice by inserting a gene from a jellyfish into the mammals’ DNA. The jellyfish gene codes for a protein that emits light when exposed to ultraviolet light.
The jellyfish gene adds an obvious physical change to an engineered animal. This allows scientists to know that genetic material successfully transferred into a new organism.
For example, when Mayo Clinic researchers genetically engineered cats to carry a protein that defends the animals from infection by the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV, the cat version of HIV), the scientists added the fluorescent gene along with the FIV-resistance gene. That way they knew that any cat that fluoresced also carried protein protection against FIV, a trait that would otherwise be invisible.
The fluorescent rabbits could eventually produce proteins as well. Re-engineered rabbits could manufacture molecules that biologists would then collect from female fluorescent rabbits’ milk. Producing medicines and other chemicals using rabbits could be less expensive than fabricating the materials in factories.
University of Hawaiʻi – Mānoa geneticists, Ryuzo Yanagimachi and Stefan Moisyadi, collaborated with Turkish scientists at the University of Istanbul and Marmara University to create the fluorescent rabbits.