GFP Bunny - The True Story

Facts about the rabbit used by the artist Eduardo Kac in his project "Free Alba!" (2000).

GFP Bunny. Trying to get the story straight

The truth about the rabbit that was used by Eduardo Kac as an art object.


Thank you for your interest to green rabbits which are at the centre of an unexpected story. I received mails from people who wanted to include this event in their thesis or in book chapters. The fluo-rabbits have become a complex symbol of poetic animals, of bad use of science, of funny pet etc.. We really did not imagine that when we generated our three founder green rabbits in 1998. We heard about E. Kac in 2000, and he came a few months later to see the green rabbits. He brought special spectacles making it possible to see the colour of the animals. We saw them green for the first time. It was rather disappointing as only the eyes appeared really green. I confirm that when E. Kac came, we examined the available green rabbits. They were essentially the offspring of the founders. We did not reproduce any rabbit for E. Kac before or after his coming. Since the founders were born, we reproduce them systematically in such away as to keep the lines but also to provide researchers with the experimental animals they need. The so-called Alba (I never gave any name to my experimental animals) died in july 2002 for no particular reason. GFP is known to be toxic at high concentration. It is probably not the case for the green rabbits since we have a normal rate of death. In conclusion, it is clear that E. Kac did not ask us to generate any rabbit. He just wanted to use one of them he named Alba. He showed on his site rabbits much greener than they really are. I think this attitude was rather bad for science and art. Similar discussion occurred when the GloFish were born. For me, these animals are at best a gadget but not a matter for art. You will find enclosed a document that I have written on Glofish. It happens that I participate to a European bioethic course (BioTethics projects). We have written a book summarizing the course and it includes case studies. GloFish is one of them. The GFP rabbits were prepared, as we always said, years ago, before E Kac came to visit us. My colleagues asked me to generate these rabbits because he needed cells with markers to clone rabbits. We chose to construct a gene capable of expressing the GFP gene in all cell types. This was expected to create a very versatile tool (Boulanger et al Transgenic Research 2002, 11, page 88). Essentially all the cells of the rabbits are green under UV light. The newborn rabbits appear uniformly green as long as they have no hairs. In adults, only the part of the body devoid of hairs look green and of course, eyes are green instead of red (under UV light). We generated 3 transgenic lines independently and we kept one which expressed GFP at the highest level. We developed this line and we have permanently about ten of them ready for some experiments and for reproduction. The so-called Alba was just one of our animals. It was about two years old when it died (for unknown reason as rabbits often do). It was thus probably one of the rabbits of the third generation. This could be checked but is not important. We did not try to see if the rabbits were green before E Kac came. Indeed, we need for that special glasses with the production of UV light and filters. We did not want to buy this material. In fact, we were happy to see that the rabbit cells were green under the microscope. This was sufficient for us. Seeing green rabbits was of very low interest. We did not need to see them green and we did not consider that would be funny and by no means surprising as soon as the rabbit cells were green under the microscope. All the animal species which can be transgenic have green lines because they are very useful markers. JP Renard used green cells to clone rabbits for the first time (Chesne et al 2002 Nature Biotechnol 20:366-369) The fact that the newborn rabbits were green was an elegant demonstration that they were clones. The GFP rabbits are extensively used by different groups in our institute for scientific purposes. These animals contributed to create a new apparatus (CellViZio) to observe cells in animals (Al Gubory et al., Eur J Cell Biol 2006, 85: 837-845). The individual cells appear clear on a TV screen. Green cells transplanted into early embryos can be followed throughout development. We started to observe the cells of green embryos developing in non-green rabbit females. This makes it possible to see fate of placenta cells in uterus particularly at the time of implantation. We sent 15 green rabbits to an academic laboratory in Sweden. This group uses the rabbit as a model for retina grafting. They are very happy to use the green rabbits since they can follow the fate of the grafted material without using any invasive technique. We are in discussion with other groups which would like to use the green rabbits to study grafting of different tissues. The animals are thus quite useful, as we expected. They are a classical tool for biologists and they were generated just for this purpose. I can imagine that such animals are intriguing or funnny but not exciting pets and I can hardly conceive that art has anything to see with them. At best they represent an easily percieved example of the kind of helpful models biologists are developing using gene transfer into animals


Best regards. LM Houdebine


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