SEOUL (AFP) - South Korean scientists have cloned cats by manipulating a fluorescent protein gene, a procedure which could help develop treatments for human genetic diseases, officials said Wednesday.
In a side-effect, the cloned cats glow in the dark when exposed to ultraviolet beams.
A team of scientists led by Kong Il-keun, a cloning expert at Gyeongsang National University, produced three cats possessing altered fluorescence protein (RFP) genes, the Ministry of Science and Technology said.
"It marked the first time in the world that cats with RFP genes have been cloned," the ministry said in a statement.
"The ability to produce cloned cats with the manipulated genes is significant as it could be used for developing treatments for genetic diseases and for reproducing model (cloned) animals suffering from the same diseases as humans," it added.
The cats were born in January and February. One was stillborn while two others grew to become adult Turkish Angoras, weighing 3.0 kilogrammes (6.6 pounds) and 3.5 kilogrammes.
"This technology can be applied to clone animals suffering from the same diseases as humans," the leading scientist, Kong, told AFP.
"It will also help develop stemcell treatments," he said, noting that cats have some 250 kinds of genetic diseases that affect humans, too.
The technology can also help clone endangered animals like tigers, leopards and wildcats, Kong said.
South Korea's bio-engineering industry suffered a setback after a much-touted achievement by cloning expert Hwang Woo-Suk turned out to have been faked.
The government banned Hwang from research using human eggs after his claims that he created the first human stem cells through cloning were ruled last year to be bogus.
Hwang is standing trial on charges of fraud and embezzlement.