“If you can make a particular gene glow, then you should be able to see when and where a cancer cells is,” he says. “That can localize the cancer and help the surgeon know where to cut.”
Osamu Shimomura, a biologist at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and one of the first to detect the glowing gene in Aequorea victoria, is now working on developing variations of the gene for disease research. He calls Kac’s rabbit project “interesting, but not too important.”
Variations of the jellyfish’s glowing genes have been used in another relatively non-scientific application. In December, a company called Prolume began marketing squirt guns loaded with replicated versions of the genes. The liquid squirts like water, but lights up when it comes in contact with a person, or any substance containing calcium.
Other researchers are working on developing glow-in-the-dark hair mousse, ink and cake frosting. There is even preliminary research underway to produce glow-in-the-dark beer and champagne.
Still, Lisa Lange, the director of policy and communications at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, points out these other applications of glow genes don’t take advantage of an animal’s life.
“I think creating this rabbit a silly and wasteful thing to do,” says Lange.
Kac’s supporters point out, however, that furry Alba has already drawn attention to the often-overlooked, living creations of genetic research. And that is just what the artist hoped would happen.
“Regardless what you believe about his work — at least it gives people in the public a chance to react to what is going on in the scientific community,” says Laurie Rosenow, a fellow with Institute for Science, Law and Technology in Illinois. “Sometimes it’s important to bring what people in white coats do into the public forum.”