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Bless you! Allergy-free cats not to be sneezed at

HYPO-ALLERGENIC’ CATS are being created for would-be cat owners who are allergic to cats. A California-based bio-tech company is exploiting the latest scientific techniques to create cats genetically engineered to be nearly free from the allergy-causing proteins that plague millions of people.

Allerca Inc president Simon Brodie said by 2007 the company will use RNA interference to "silence" a gene in cats that produces the irritant, which is excreted through saliva and the skin.

Scientists researching everything from cancer to crops are using RNA interference to silence genes to create drugs, gene-searching tools and even a new way of decaffeinating coffee.

Now Brodie hopes to bring that same promise to the cat world and eliminate the need for allergic cat lovers to receive symptom-reducing shots while encouraging others put off by the allergy to buy a pet for the first time.

The Los Angeles company is now accepting £190 deposits for the first breed of cat to be produced using the new techniques, the British Shorthair. The company plans sell each cat for around £1,900 in the US and £5,400 in Japan.

Brodie said he hoped to ultimately sell about 200,000 of the genetically engineered cats a year. The company has yet to engineer any cats, which will be spayed and neutered to prevent breeding with naturally born felines.