The meadow vole is one of Tiny's and Baby's preferred prey species (Purdue University photo)
"New research shows that gene therapy can turn promiscuous male voles into faithful bedfellows," reports Helen R. Pilcher at Science:
Miranda Lim from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and colleagues used a virus to introduce a gene directly into the brain of male meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus). The gene encodes a protein called the vasopressin receptor, which helps to regulate social behaviour and pair bonding.
A few days later, the normally promiscuous rodents developed high levels of vasopressin receptors and lost their lust for the ladies. Increasing the number of vasopressin receptors in this area gives an animal a sense of reward when it forms a close pair bond, explains Lim. So lecherous animals calm their errant ways.
"It's amazing to think that altering just one gene can regulate such a complex behaviour," says Lim.
This has implications for species evolution. "The study suggests that promiscuous species may harbour the potential to engage in pair bond formation," says Lim.
Whether or not the technique could work in humans is not known. Promiscuous and monogamous monkey species have different patterns of vasopressin receptor expression that closely match those seen in the voles. So it is possible that philandering and faithful humans may share similar brain chemistry, says Lim.
It could render marriage vows obsolete.