Monday, June 21, 2004

Baaaaaaad Science?

I got a bit of stick a while back when I suggested that straight men – as evinced by their sensitive tiny dog owning brothers – might perhaps be evolving into patient, caring nurturers, transferring the lessons of love learned from their cute little puppies to their put-upon girlfriends. (See Wednesday June 9th - 'What Little Dogs Can Do...')
It was a gentleman by the name of ‘Lamb’ who pooh-poohed the notion most vociferously, claiming that only big dog type guys could provide women with the level of big dog owning attentions we need. However, upon sending him photographic proof of the kind of dog I was talking about, he made my point far better than I ever could: “Oh she’s so cute!” He gushed. “Just like a little baby Wookie!”
I rest my case.
So it is with great interest that I report now on further evidence streaming from the animal world, evidence that suggests enormous implications for the future of committed human relationships.
The article, published in the redoubtable Nature Magazine, relates how a genetic breakthrough observed in the promiscuous male Meadow Vole has transformed the formerly slutty rodent into a calm committed one-vole vole.
And scientists say that there’s no reason why a little genetic manipulation couldn’t produce exactly the same results in humans.
Women everywhere (vole and human alike) are celebrating the discovery.
According to Nature, the problem with males (both Meadow Vole and human) is a lack of pair bonding resulting from a dearth of the hormone vasopressin. Since the Meadow Vole’s close relative the Prairie Vole is famous for his ability to fall in love with precisely one lady vole and bond with her for life, the endocrinologically-inclined scientists were able to compare and contrast, finally being able to pinpoint the specific component missing in their cheating cousins: insufficient vasopressin receptors.
The scientists (and, it must be assumed, irrepressible romantics) quickly shoved in as many of the specific receptors as they could, resulting in a complete change of behaviour: from love ‘em and leave ‘em lounge lizard, the Meadow Voles were transformed into swan-aping lifelong lovers.
No doubt equipped with industrial strength hankies, the scientists further observed that the now committed vole would stick with his chosen mate, even if tempted by the charms of another (likely cheap and desperate) female vole.
“We think what happens is when the moles mate, vasopressin activates the reward centre, and it really makes the animals pay attention to who they are mating with,” said co-author Larry Young, from Emory University in Georgia.
“It makes the voles think: “When I’m with this partner I feel good” and from then on they want to spend their time with that particular partner.”
Extrapolating from their astounding results, these same scientists opine that given vasopressin is similarly released during human on human sex, with a little genetic tweaking, the same results as observed in Meadow Voles may be mirrored in Homosapiens.
No word on when human tests might begin – or even if – but the potential changes likely have certain women investing heavily in the appropriate pharmaceutical stock.
My colleague Mr. Lamb may disagree, bleating that Meadow Voles and men are of distinctly different species.
But I wonder; I have the distinct impression that he himself could well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing…

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