Science & Tech

A gene-editing experiment on hamsters ended up turning them into ‘aggressive' mutants

A gene-editing experiment on hamsters ended up turning them into ‘aggressive' mutants
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Hamsters have long been considered adorable bundles of fluff which make for a pretty cute household pet, but scientists from Georgia State University might have accidentally caused harm to that reputation following an experiment in gene-editing.

Using the controversial technology known as CRIPSR, researchers focussed on the hormone vasopressin and its receptor - known as Avpr1a – and opted to remove the latter from the animals.

Avpr1a is understood to regulate things such as pair bonding and cooperation in the rodents, as well as dominance and aggression.

Yet, commenting on their findings, research lead Professor H Elliot Albers said: “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.”

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Yep, they got far more ferocious.

The academics found the Syrian hamsters with an eliminated Avpr1a receptor “showed much higher levels of social communication behaviour” compared to their peers who had their receptor intact. The former group would also exhibit “high levels of aggression towards other same-sex individuals”.

If that doesn’t sound like the next budget horror movie, we don’t know what does.

According to Professor Alberts, the results suggest “a startling conclusion”.

He said: “Even though we know that vasopressin increases social behaviours by acting within a number of brain regions, it is possible that the more global effects of the Avpr1a receptor are inhibitory.

“We don’t understand this system as well as we thought we did.”

As for why the experiment was carried out on hamsters, it’s because “their social organisation is far more similar to humans than that observed in mice” – another animal more commonly used in animal testing.

Professor Albers added: “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.”

If we could avoid creating more aggressive hamsters, though, that would be great.

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