Scientists accidentally made a vicious mutant hamster

In a recent study published in the scientific journal of Neurosciencea group of scientists revel in their journey to try and use CRISPR gene-editing technology to bio-engineer an extra-friendly, extra-cool hamster.

Like a good bad sci-fi movie, this went horribly wrong (emphasis mine):

We produced Syrian hamsters totally devoid of Avpr1as (Avpr1a knock out [KO] hamsters) using the CRISPR-Cas9 system to further examine the role of Avpr1a in the expression of social behaviors. We confirmed the absence of Avpr1as in these hamsters by demonstrating 1) complete absence of Avpr1a-specific receptor binding throughout the brain, 2) behavioral insensitivity to centrally administered AVP, and 3) absence of the well-known response to blood pressure. produced by activating Avpr1as. Unexpectedly, however, Avpr1a KO hamsters displayed more social communication behavior and aggression towards same-sex conspecifics than their wild-type (WT) littermates.

In other words, the researchers used CRISPR-Cas9 to eliminate a natural hormone (vasopressin and its receptor, Avpr1a) that is generally thought to regulate things like teamwork and connections. Their hypothesis was that by removing this hormone, hamsters stop regulate their friendliness and just give in to being cuddly, loveable pals all the time. But in fact, it had the opposite effect: they were incredibly aggressive, territorial and violent towards other hamsters of the same sex.


CRISPR-Cas9 editing of arginine-vasopressin V1a receptor produces paradoxical changes in social behavior of Syrian hamsters [Jack H. Taylor, James C. Walton, Katharine E. McCann , Alisa Norvelle, Qian Liu, Jacob W. Vander Velden, Johnathan M. Borland, Michael Hart, Chengliu Jin, Kim L. Huhman, Daniel N. Cox, and H. Elliott Albers / Neuroscience]

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