cholesterol-free mouse

With the glut of cholesterol-free everything on the market, now comes the cholesterol-free mouse, reports an international team of researchers in the Dec. 19 Science. Cholesterol, despite being notorious for clogging arteries and contributing to heart disease and strokes, has long been considered integral for survival. The fat-like substance plays many roles in the body, being vital for cellular signaling and the formation of hormones, and it is an essential structural building block of cells and their membranes. But now researchers from Quark Biotech Inc. in the United States, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and the Sackler School of Medicine in Israel have created mice with a genetic mutation that disrupts the manufacture of cholesterol in their bodies, replacing it with a substance called desmosterol. The cholesterol-free mice were 25 percent smaller than normal when born and both males and females were infertile, but were otherwise relatively healthy. In humans, a similar genetic deficiency causes severe abnormalities. “We were surprised by the fact that a mouse lacking cholesterol can survive and develop into adulthood with little effect,” stated study author Elena Feinstein of Quark Biotech.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 12/30/2003.
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