Genetics: Monogamouse

December 30, 2009

Genetically modified prairie voles may illuminate the human condition

LOVE, of course, is what makes the world go round, but what makes love go round? To aesthetes, such a question is imponderable. To scientists, it is not only ponderable but increasingly open to scrutiny—the more so now that Zoe Donaldson and her colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, have succeeded in creating a new kind of transgenic prairie vole. For, unlikely as it might seem, these tiny rodents could be the key to understanding bonding, trust and even decision-making in humans.

For those unfamiliar with the delightful prairie vole, it is a small rodent found in the grasslands of central North America. What makes it unusual among mammals is that it is both sociable and monogamous. Prairie voles groom each other, nest with one another, collaborate to guard their territory and are affectionate and attentive parents who form, for the most part, devoted couples. Their close relatives the meadow voles, by contrast, prefer a solitary, promiscuous existence. …

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