BLACKSBURG, VA, February 18, 1998--A student in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine has used a summer fellowship grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation (Morristown, NJ) to develop a genetically engineered bacterium to serve as an oral contraceptive that may one day help solve a major animal overpopulation problem.
Experts estimate that anywhere from 30- to 60-million stray cats roam the United States, according to second-year student Michelle Meister-Weisbarth. These feral cats are wreaking havoc on the nation's songbird population and raising public health concerns as they spread infectious diseases and alter delicate ecological balances.
Controlling the birth rates of feral cats has proven a vexing task, since conventional spay and neuter techniques require surgery in a controlled environment. Animal control experts also note that eliminating or removing the feral cats does not work well since others seem to migrate into the recently vacated niches.
Working with faculty mentor Dr. Stephen Boyle in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine's Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease (CMMID), Weisbarth conducted research which suggests the viability of a provocative new immuno-contraceptive approach for controlling reproduction in these feral cats.
The method involves the use of genetic engineering technology to modify a strain of the bacterium, Salmonella, which could then be delivered to feral cats in the wild via a vaccine-laden bait. Work in other laboratories around the world has demonstrated the viability of using genetically altered strains of Salmonella as vehicles for delivering vaccines, including oral contraceptives, explains Boyle, a molecular biologist at the CMMID.
Here's how the process works: Scientists used genetic engineering techniques to remove specific genes on the Salmonella genome making it unable to cause disease. Then, Meister-Weisbarth introduce
Contact: Dr. Stephen Boyle