You don’t see many cats in science news headlines. Anonymous lab mice, Pavlov’s dogs, even Dolly the sheep get more recognition than most of the cats on this list. Still, each of the pioneer cats listed here deserves to bask in their own ray of sunlight on the great bed of science. In honor of National Cat Day, we’re recognizing these 5 cats in science.
1. Schrödinger’s cat
(Credit: Julia Sonsedska/Shutterstock)
It’s pretty much a law of nature that if you’re writing about science and cats, you should mention Schrödinger’s cat. Which is not a real cat – there really is some doubt on whether Erwin Schrödinger ever owned a cat. But the physicist and Nobel laureate really invented this a thought experiment in 1935, which placed a hypothetical cat in a hypothetical box in a hypothetical death trap situation where the cat could be said to be both dead and alive until directly observed.
When you think about it, that’s a pretty terrible scenario to throw out there. (However, it must be said that history revealed Schrödinger to be pretty awful himself.) In the interest of historical accuracy, it’s worth noting that Schrödinger didn’t intend for people to take his live/dead cat scenario seriously. He proposed it as an absurdity, a criticism of the then thinking regarding quantum theory. But that criticism has since taken on a life (and death) of its own. The important thing to remember is that no actual cats died in the making of this particular scenario.
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2. Felicette, the space cat
Felicette, the first and only cat to reach space. (Credit: RonFrazier/CC BY-SA 2.0/Wikimedia Commons)
Since the dawn of rocket travel, various countries have sent just over 600 human beings into space, as well as more than 30 monkeys, a dozen dogs, many mice and fruit flies, and even some turtles. But only one cat has ever gone to space and back.
Plucked from the streets of Paris, this stray tuxedo cat was among 14 feline recruits trained for space flight by CNES (National Space Research Center), the French equivalent of NASA. These feline astronauts went through many of the same rigorous tests as the human candidates, but the Parisian homeless man made it.
On October 18, 1963, C 341 (the cat’s official designation) made its fateful journey into space, enduring 9.5 g – more than enough to knock a person out – and about five minutes of weightlessness.
But she managed to safely return to earth and for a time was a star in the French press, who named the cat “Felix” after the famous cartoon chat. French authorities feminized it to Félicette and made the name official. Unfortunately, and to CNES’s shame, Félicette’s keepers euthanized the intrepid kitten a few months later to further study the physical and neurological effects of her flight. In 2019, Félicette was finally monument with a bronze statue now standing at the International Space University in Strasbourg.
3. CC, the cloned cat
CC with its owner in 2003 (Credit: Pschemp/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons)
Long at the forefront of animal cloning, Texas A&M’s The College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has produced genetic replicas of horses, pigs, goats and other creatures. But in 2001, they made history by bringing a literal copycat to the world.
Aptly named CC, the first cloned cat on the planet, was a favorite of researchers there. Created by nuclear transfer from the cells of Rainbow, a female shorthair who served as a donor, CC herself was a healthy genetic duplicate of Rainbow, although the two cats were not perfectly alike: Developmental variations gave the kitten clone slightly different coloring and pattern on her coat.
A faculty member adopted a CC who lives a living in luxury in a custom-made cat suite in its owner’s backyard. She even had a family of her own when she later gave birth (via natural methods) to three kittens. But CC’s exceptional pedigree doesn’t give it much longevity in 2020 she passed away of kidney failure, at the ripe old age of 18.
Read more: 5 cats that famous scientists owned
4. Mr. Green Genes and other bioluminescent cats
Anyone who has ever taken a photo of a cat or seen one in low light knows that their eyes glow with a certain brightness that makes them seem almost supernatural. But thanks to the intervention of science, it turns out that some rare cats can, under the right circumstances, produce a real glow. We’re talking full bioluminescence, the stuff you see in fireflies and jellyfish.
The first glow-in-the-dark cat was aptly named Mr. Green Genes (shoutout to now obscure children’s television assistant). In 2008, the genetic makeup of the New Orleans ginger cat was modified in an attempt to determine if a foreign gene could be added to its biological makeup. The easiest way to test this, the researchers decided, was to introduce it green fluorescent protein (GFP), a jellyfish-related gene that can be detected under ultraviolet light. It works – and without harming the cat.
A few years later, the prestigious Mayo Clinic used a similar research procedure feline AIDS, hoping to shed light on human AIDS and other diseases as well. Researchers have inserted a gene into cat eggs that is known to block feline AIDS infection. This was accompanied by the jellyfish gene – not for any therapeutic benefit, but to confirm that the gene transfer had been successful. If the cats born from these eggs glowed when exposed to ultraviolet light, the researchers knew the transfer was working. Again, the procedure did not harm the cats. However, it has spawned a generation of aspiring pet owners, including some members of the on Find out staffwho wanted to know how they could get their own incandescent kitten.
5. Oscar the bionic cat
Oscar’s fame included a fascinating book published by his owner. (Credit: Amazon)
In 2009, a black cat named Oscar was not very lucky. His idyllic life on the Channel Island of Jersey is interrupted in the most horrific way when he loses both of his hind legs in a farm accident. This could have been the end for most pets, but Oscar’s luck changed when he was taken into the care of Noel Fitzpatrick, a veterinarian specializing in orthopedics and neurosurgery.
Fitzpatrick performed the first surgery of its kind, implanting two custom-made devices known as intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prostheses (ITAPs). Like Find out and other media reported at this timethe ITAP technology means that “the skin from Oscar’s amputated legs can actually grow into the prosthetics like a deer’s skin grows into its antlers.”
Read more: Meet Oscar the bionic cat
Since then, other animals have benefited from this successful surgery, and ITAP has been studied as an option for human amputees. Meanwhile, Oscar has become famous, starring in TV shows, documentaries and as the subject of a 2013 film. A book. Oscar, still hale and hearty, celebrated his 15th birthday in July 2022