Researchers expected the genetic change to make hamsters more social and peaceful, but the normally docile creatures became more aggressive.
After a gene-editing experiment on hamsters turned the peaceful creatures into "aggressive" monsters, a team of neuroscience experts were "very astonished." Georgia State University (GSU) in the United States released a statement highlighting a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
According to the news release, scientists used Syrian hamsters and CRISPR-Cas9, a groundbreaking tool that allows scientists to turn genes on or off in cells. The technology disabled a vasopressin receptor, a hormone linked to increased aggression.
The researchers hoped that by altering the genetic code, the hamsters would become more gregarious and calm. The docile animals, on the other hand, became more violent. "We were really surprised by the results," said H. Elliot Albers, one of the study's lead researchers, adding, "We expected that removing vasopressin activity would reduce both aggression and social communication." However, the exact opposite occurred."
The hamsters without the receptor exhibited "far higher levels" of social communication behaviour than their counterparts with functional receptors, according to the researchers. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that the traditional sex distinctions in aggressiveness had vanished, with both male and female hamsters expressing "high levels of antagonism" toward other same-sex individuals. According to the study, chasing, biting, and pinning were among the behaviours seen.
According to the statement, "this indicates a shocking conclusion." "Even though we know that vasopressin promotes social behaviour by acting on multiple brain regions, it's plausible that the Avpr1a receptor's more broad effects are suppressive."
The "counterintuitive findings" suggest that the scientists "don't grasp this system," according to the lead researcher. Mr Albers continued by stating that creating gene-edited hamsters was "not straightforward."
Now, experts say that a greater understanding of vasopressin's involvement in social behaviour is critical to developing new treatment options for psychiatric diseases in humans, such as autism and depression.