Analyzing the DNA of 50 domestic cats, researchers found regions along two genes primarily involved in producing Fel d 1 that would be suitable for editing with CRISPR.
Pexels | Nadiye Odabaşı

Thanks to CRISPR gene-editing technology, truly hypoallergenic cats could soon steal people's hearts and safely curl up on their laps without triggering sneezes, itchy eyes or other allergy symptoms.

The primary cause of allergies to cats is a glycoprotein known as Fel D1, which is produced by the sebaceous glands under the skin, and to a lesser degree is present in cat’s saliva.

A cat is constantly shedding minute particles of dander (skin flakes) into the environment, and when they groom, they transfer saliva on to the coat, which is then shed around the home producing allergies to those susceptible.

People with allergies have over-sensitive immune systems. Their bodies mistake harmless things – like cat dander – for dangerous invaders and attack them as they would bacteria or viruses. The symptoms of the allergy are the side effects of your body’s assault on the allergen or trigger.

Blocking genes one at a time

InBio, a United States biotech company, has found a way to block genes responsible for a major cat allergen using CRISPR, a genetic engineering technique that allows scientists to add or remove bits of DNA at a specific location in an organism's genome. Gizmodo's Ed Cara reports the find is the first step toward hypoallergenic cats as healthy as felines with unedited genes. Details on the project called CRISPR Cat were published in The CRISPR Journal.

The two genes that code for Fel d 1 are CH1 and CH2. Researchers at InBio are working on using CRISPR to create cats that produce little-to-no Fel d 1. After analyzing the DNA of 50 domestic cats, researchers identified regions along the two genes that the team could cut and edit with CRISPR, per Gizmodo. CRISPR technology uses an enzyme called Cas9 to cut the two strands of DNA at a target site on the genome so that sections of DNA can be inserted or deleted.

When the team compared the genes of the domestic cats with eight wild cat species, the researchers found variation between the groups, suggesting that Fel d 1 is not a needed gene for the cats to survive and removing it may not cause any health risks, Gizmodo reports.

Gene reducing cat food

Besides gene editing, there are other ways to reduce the Fel d 1 protein in felines. Purina has specialized line of pet food that reduces the amount of allergen in dander or fur by 47 percent on average after three weeks of use. Another company is developing vaccine that trains a cat's immune system to reduce levels of the protein. But the researchers argue that these methods won't eliminate the allergen completely, so gene-editing could be a tool to make truly hypoallergenic cats, per Gizmodo.

This article originally appeared in The Smithsonian.