Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the pet shop, scientists in the US state of Georgia have accidentally created highly-aggressive mutant hamsters.
In a study led by H. Elliott Albers, Regents’ Professor of Neuroscience at Georgia State University, and Distinguished University Professor Kim Huhman, a team of researchers used CRISPR gene-editing technology to knock out a receptor in Syrian hamsters that responds to vasopressin.
Vasopressin is a hormone that regulates mammals’ pair bonding, cooperation, social communication, dominance, and aggression. According to Professor Albers, disabling the receptor caused an unexpected change in the hamsters’ social behaviour.
“We were really surprised at the results. We anticipated that if we eliminated vasopressin activity, we would reduce both aggression and social communication. But the opposite happened,” he said.
Instead, social communication actually increased – and what’s more, the usual differences in aggression between male and female hamsters disappeared, with female hamsters being just as aggressive towards other females as males usually are towards other males.
This research is of course aimed at more than just creating an army of killer mutant hamsters (or so the scientists say, anyway) – it has implications for human health as well.
“Understanding the role of vasopressin in behaviour is necessary to help identify potential new and more effective treatment strategies for a diverse group of neuropsychiatric disorders ranging from autism to depression,” said Professor Albers.
Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to pitch Marvel the script for our new film, The Incredible Hulkster.