AIDS Illumination and Glowing Animals

After reading the February 2012 issue of National Geographic, an interesting picture of this cat caught my eye. I read how FIV causes AIDS in cats, just as HIV does in humans. A rhesus macaque gene, which produces an antiviral protein therefore preventing the FIV decimating infection-fighting cells, was inserted into unfertilized feline egg. To be able to monitor this gene within the kittens as they grew, they added a luminescent protein from a jellyfish causing the scientists to be able to observe the individual genes under microscopes and certain lights. This meant that the next generation of cats produce the antiviral and luminescent protein themselves, glowing in the dark and perhaps being immune to FIV!

I found this genetic modification, used in an effort to help both cats and humans alike, fascinating; so I did some more research to decipher the details of how it was done and how it may help us in aspects of veterinary and human medicine.

To put the macaque gene (TRIMCyp) and the jellyfish gene (GFP) into the egg cells (oocytes), a virus was used which doesn’t cause disease, otherwise known as the process of gamete-targeted lentivirus transgenesis. As they wereput into the same little bit of DNA, one would only occur if the other did as well. Therefore all cells containing the antiviral protein (and hopefully causing resistance to FIV) would also glow under ultra-violet light. This means that a kitten born with its whole body glowing has undergone the genetic modification successfully.

The macaque gene works by attacking the outer shell of the virus, beginning before the immune system has time to sense presence of an infection. This has worked in Petri dish so scientists hope that it will also work in the cats. Eventually, if the results are positive, the TRIMCyp gene (or one similar) may also be able to be inserted into humans to help fight HIV/AIDS. However, AIDS poses a parallel pandemic in cats to the one faced by humans. Millions of cats die of it everyday, especially feral cats as the virus is transmitted through bites. This could be a revolutionary process to transform the prevention of AIDS for those human and feline.

Green Flourescent Protein has also been used for other purposes in veterinary medicine. In fish it can be used to track the invasion path of the pathogen Edwardsiella tarda. But even better than this, it can be used to follow individual neurons in the brain.

Cerebral Cortex

This is called Brainbow and results in a beautiful multicoloured brain caused by random mixes of different colour proteins. This could help in research into neurodegenerative diseases like Altzheimers’ and Parkinson’s disease.

However, the access to GDF can result in experiments which have no need and are done ‘for fun’ at the animals’ expense. Like Ruppy the glowing beagle puppy:

Examples can be gained by just typing ‘glowing animals’ in Google Images and finding the horrors of genetically modified animals made to glow for no reason but to ‘look pretty’.

So although GDF can be used scientifically to uncover radical changes in medicine for both animals and humans, it has to be used carefully with the consideration of the animals being used…

…however, if this was done to hedgehogs could it reduce the chance of them being run over?!

Owl Classification

This is a simple diagram which I made explaining owl classification and how it works. I found it fascinating to see all the different steps in classification especially the phylum, as I used to think that animals were only split into vertebrates and invertebrates, not considering the hollow dorsal nervechord. But when thinking about owls specifically, I found it interesting to see the two families, Tytonidae and Strigidae. It was when looking at the huge difference between the number of genera in each family that I decided to do some research into what separates these two kinds of owl.

Tytonidae owls are in the Barn Owl family, including the common barn, ashy-faced, grass, sooty, masked, bay owls as well as the subspecies within these. But in consideration of the over 200 owl species, the number of those in the tytonidae family are very few. So what defines a tytonidae owl in order to make it so different?

Physical characteristics of the tytonidae family:

  • long, compressed bills
  • long legs
  • heart-shaped facial disk
  • short tails
  • no ear tufts
  • dark eyes which are small and oval shaped
  • serrated middle claw used to preen feathers
  • females are generally larger, heavier and darker in colour

 This can be compared to owls in the Strigidae family. These are ‘typical’ owls inlcuding all other species and genus not mentioned above within the tytonidae. In comparison they are a lot more common and the defining features are much more ‘owl-like’ (in want of a better word).

Physical characteristics of the strigidae family:

  • often yellow or bright coloured eyes
  • round facial disk
  • many species have ear tufts

Of course this can be clearly seen by just comparing a barn and tawny owl to find most of these characteristics and by looking at an owl I believe it is almost always possible to categorise it into its family. However I want to know whether there is anything more to this, for example, genes

After doing lots of research I have found that according to investigations into evolutionary patterns in owls done at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland that ‘this unambiguously indicates orthology of the barn owl and strigidae genes’ – in English basically meaning that there is no apparent difference between the genes of tytonidae and strigidae genes.

From this I have concluded that when man classified the owls of the world, it was nothing more than the contrasting physical appearance of the barn owl family which lead them to be classed as tytonidae. Through doing this interesting research I have sparked an interest in my mind on genetic science as well as satisfied my questions on owl classification.


<a href=””>Barn Owls: Tytonidae – Physical Characteristics</a>

<a href=””>Owls: Strigidae – Physical Characteristics</a>

Kingsnorth Vets – February 2012

On 6th February 2012 I went to Kingsnorth Veterinary Centre to do work experience for one week.  I hoped to be able to gain valuable experience and learn what it takes to be a vet and what their daily routine in the surgery is like. I was especially looking forward to watching operations because I felt this would be the hardest thing to over come when becoming a vet. I knew that it would be hard for to do much because of the health and safety surrounding my placement however I hoped to be able to assist in jobs such as holding animals.

When doing my work experience I hoped to learn what skills are needed to become a vet and to find out what it is like to work as a vet. I hoped to be able to so this through observation and asking questions when watching things being done. I also wanted to improve my self-confidence by being able to pursue tasks with confidence and authority, using my initiative to adapt to the environment surrounding me and therefore having assertion to ask questions and develop my learning. Furthermore I wanted to learn more about animals, building up my interest in them and taking away valuable knowledge that I could use in the future when encountering other animals. Finally I hoped to be able to develop my communication skills through interacting with clients and other employees. I wanted to be able to make useful contacts for further work experience and volunteering as I knew how important this is when applying to a veterinary course at university.

Throughout my placement at the vets, I interviewed three people: a veterinary surgeon, a veterinary nurse and my dad who is a chief engineer. From doing these interviews I learnt how important it is that different skills are needed within different jobs. I also found out that the people around you, both clients and colleagues are important in how your job evolves. This is especially clear within veterinary surgery when the clients can affect how the animal is treated. I now know about Continued Professional Development which is needed as further training to be a vet. It is important to gain extra training in the areas of work that I interviewed because of the times which are constantly changing in medicine and engineering as new products and discoveries are being made.

During my week of work experience I really enjoyed myself, however unfortunately the practise was very quiet due to the snow. I found this good to start with because it gave me a chance to get used to my surroundings. On the first day I watched some consults as well as a castration of a cat. Most of the consults consisted of check ups and vaccinations showing me the basics of what vets experience however I was able to see how every case was different because of the animals and owners. I was allowed to listen to a collie’s heart during one of these which I loved because I was able to compare it to other dogs when I listened to their hearts later in the week. I heard the heart much clearer and louder in the bigger dogs’ hearts because of their large chests which help to amplify the sound. I also observed different kinds of vaccinations which I saw were needed in different cases. For example all kittens need the same three vaccinations however only some dogs are given the kennel cough vaccination if they stay in kennels or are often around lots of other dogs because kennel cough is very infectious. It was also interesting to see the different ways in which the vaccinations can be administered. Most are injections whilst kennel cough is given through the nose. The most exciting case of the first day was aChihuahuawhich had been trodden on. It was given three X-rays all of different positions which the vet showed and explained to me, revealing three fractured ribs causing the dog to have difficulty when breathing. All that could be done for it was to administer pain killer and allow it time to rest.

On the second day I spent most of the day observing consultations. I found it most interesting seeing the different animals and their conditions as well as their owners. I realised how hard it can be to make a diagnosis and that often tests have to be done for confirmation. This was also the first day I saw an animal being put down. It was a very old cat and the owners had decided that the kindest thing for it would be euthanasia. I realised that this is often one of the hardest things that vets have to deal with, however I saw that it was the only option and definitely the most kind. When watching it I thought that if it had been a human it would have been kept alive and suffering because of the current laws on euthanasia.

My third day at the vets was really enjoyable; this was mainly because of the two operations I watched. One was a cat spay and one was a bitch spay, both of which I found really interesting as well as fascinating to watch. I was especially proud of myself because I was told that I might pass out but I didn’t even feel faint! I saw the precision needed when stitching and how mistakes can be fatal. I observed how the different instruments had different purposes such as clamps. I loved being told what was happening and I learnt so much. The bitch spay was really good to watch because although it is a standard procedure, it can be very tricky because of the deep positioning of the uterus within the dog. The amount of blood lost also really interested me because I thought there would be much more than there was. However I was told that when an animal is in season there are many more blood vessels so therefore bitch spays have to be carried out three months after the dog is in season to avoid dangerous levels of blood loss. I saw how important it is to keep the conditions in the theatre clean and sterilised and the equipment was not touched unless the vet was wearing his gloves. Furthermore, when I mopped, the theatre had to be done first with clean water. I was also shown two X-rays which I really enjoyed deciphering to show heart failure and lung cancer. It was remarkable to see the anatomical similarities the two such different dogs had. Unfortunately the dog with lung cancer had to be put down as cancer is just as big a problem in animals as it is humans.

The fourth day I did a variety of things which I really enjoyed. I began by observing consults. We were all given a shock when an elderly man collapsed in the first one of the day. It was terrifying for me to watch, but action was taken immediately and an ambulance was called. I acted as messenger fetching nurses and blankets as the instructions were shouted at me. We did not know how serious it was and by observing the vet who took charge I saw how important it is to stay calm with all patients, both humans and animals. Afterwards the vet told me he had thought the man was going to die but luckily later that day we were told the man was back at home. After some more consults, including the issue of a pet passport, I watched part of a bitch spay which I found really interesting to compare and reflect on the one I watched the day before. Also I was shown an ultrasound of a cat’s heart which was brilliant and helped me to develop my knowledge. Unfortunately the cat was very fat so the picture wasn’t very clear, however the ultrasound showed it to be otherwise healthy. In the afternoon, I was shown how to examine an animal using the nurses’ dogs. I practised using the stethoscopes, found a pulse and looked at the dogs’ teeth and ears. I really enjoyed this and looked forward to using the knowledge I learnt to practise o my own dog.

On the final day I observed some really interesting cases. A cat had been retching so the vet looked down its throat using a bronchoscope. I was shown that there was a piece of grass trapped by the soft palette. They used an instrument with a grabber on the end and eventually managed to capture the blade of grass and remove it. It was amazing to see the time and effort put into making the cat better as well as the teamwork and the communication between the vet and the nurse which was so important in making a successful case. I also watched a cat castrate as well as an examination of a throat mass in a dog. Unfortunately the dog was too ill and had to be put down, however I was able to listen to its heart and compare it to a conscious dog’s as well as listen to an empty chest. It was very sad but I realise after reflection from Tuesday that it was necessary and the best thing to be done. I observed a dental on a cat and was able to compare the procedure and the equipment used to a human dental practise. Furthermore, I sat cleaned out some kennels and watched some consults. I sat with an ill cat and encouraged it to eat. This gave me an insight into the different temperaments animals can have and their relationships with humans.

After my work experience I was able to reflect on the targets I achieved and the skills I developed. Through observing the vets and nurses I was able to find out what skills are needed to become one and what it is like to work as one. I realise how important good communication is and that handling animals in the correct way is also very significant. The teamwork I saw throughout the practise was inspiring and I realise that this is something I can develop throughout everyday life. I wanted to improve my self-confidence and although I realise for a lot of the week I was very quiet, I think towards the end I was more confident and developed my communication as well as teamwork skills including overcoming some difficult hurdles. I talked to the head nurse about this as well and she encouraged be to become more secure with my surroundings and be more outgoing when around other people. I learnt about animals and although not all of it I understood thoroughly I hope to do more research into it and develop my knowledge further.

Throughout my week of work experience I have learnt so much. Although most of it consisted of observations, this gave me a chance to see what it is like to be a vet without being put under pressure. The people who worked there were really nice to me and supported me as I learnt more and more about animals. By talking to the vets, I have also found out more about universities and many tips in succeeding in becoming a vet. However, the overall week was very quiet so I was often left with nothing to do or given jobs such as mopping and cleaning. But when reflecting on this I was able to see the basics of what vets do such as neutering and vaccinations which form a large amount of a vet’s job. I am also now more determined to succeed in getting a good job and avoid spending my life cleaning! Thank you to everyone at Kingsnorth vets, I had a brilliant time!

Nutmeg and Saffron the guinea pigs

Nutmeg and Saffron are my two guinea pigs. They are sisters and were born on 30th July 2009.

They love being on the grass and growing chubby in the summer. But even in the winter months, they have fun running around my bedroom and laying their teeth on anything which can be found. They also both adore being cuddled and being given lots of attention. Furthermore, they are brilliant listeners and showing interest in everything I tell them with the occasional reassuring squeak!

Simba the dog

Simba is our family dog, named after Simba from the lion king because of his ‘lion-like’ fur! He is now six years old and a lurcher. However, because of his unknown beginning to life, he’s pretty much a mongrel, with definitely some greyhound and maybe suluki in him as well.

We got Simba when he was six months old from the Lord Whisky Animal Sanctuary. They had found him a month before, running free in the wild with his mother and two brothers. Simba is a much more confident dog than he used to be and brilliant with people. However he is still terrified of other dogs.

Simba can run really fast and tears around our garden as if he truly was a racing greyhound. However, for the rest of the day he will curl up and sleep on his favourite rug, lapping up any attention he’s given.

Breeze and Bracken the chinchillas

Breeze and Bracken are my sister’s two cheeky chinchillas. Bracken is a medium ebony whilst Breeze is albino. They have really soft fur, especially Bracken. This is because her father had been rescued from a glove factory where he was going to be made into a very furry pair of gloves. To keep their fur in this condition they have to have a sand bath about twice a week. Because of how fine the fur is and the little dandruff it produces, chinchillas are great pets for people who are allergic to most small animals – like my sister. Furthermore they can live up to 20 years and need lots of exercise, however this can only consist of running in an enclosed space as if they ran in a ball their thick fur could result in overheating and therefore serious consequences. Also they can be seen to be different from other pets because of their strict diet of dry food, similar to that of a degu. They are allowed a maximum of 1 raisin each a day apart from their dry pellets and old hay due to the deserts of South America they originated from. Overall, Breeze and Bracken the chinchillas make great pets, not needing much attention but welcoming it freely!

Sam the cockatiel

Sam is our family cockatiel. He is about 18 years old however we don’t know exactly as he is a rescue bird, given to us by an old lady who could no longer look after him. Although he never comes out of the cage he is a happy bird who loves attention and often chirps and even wolf whistles! His favourite past times include admiring himself in the mirrors which hang in his cage.