Hannah Page and Dr. Dee Higley, Department of Psychology
I used my ORCA grant to attend ASP, go on an internship at the CNPRC, and pursue research involving the oxytocin, or “cuddle hormone” genotype in titi monkeys.
ASP is the American Society of Primatologists, and has a conference each year. I was able to attend and present at this conference. The poster I presented involved the effect of the serotonin transporter gene in Rhesus macaques on mother-infant relationships during reunions after periods of separation. I was also able to attend presentations on a variety of primate-related subjects, from primate care to infant behaviors to the spread of HIV. I also had the opportunity to network with top researchers in the field, and cultivate meaningful work relationships. If I choose to pursue primatology, these relationships will be invaluable to obtaining acceptance into graduate school.
At the CNPRC, the California National Primate Research Center, I worked with two species of monkeys: Rhesus macaques and Titi monkeys. From working with Rhesus monkeys, I learned how to quantify behaviors, how to draw blood, how their milk is different from that of other primates, and how that milk is obtained (oxytocin stimulates milk production; mothers are injected with oxytocin prior to milking). From working with Titi monkeys, I learned of their compex social dynamics, (mother loves father, father loves mother, infant loves father), the way they react to new stimuli, how to handle the infants, how to process urine samples, and how to aliquot blood.
With this grant, I was able to purchase primers and equipment to run a series of PCRs, or polymerase chain reactions, to determine whether or not these monkeys have the OXTR gene, an oxytocin gene, similar to that of humans. In humans, this gene is associated with bonding, both between mothers and infants and between monogamous pairs (Feldman, 2012). Because titi monkeys, like humans, are monogamous, knowing genetic variations affecting the transport of oxytocin would be extremely helpful. Titi monkeys make a good model for studying primate bonding, and this model would be improved with additional genetic understanding. The more we know about bonding, the better equipped we are to promote it. With our knowledge of the importance of family, this understanding is precious.
I performed my research under the supervision of Dr. Higley, as well as Dr. Bales and Dr. Kinally, two researchers at the California National Primate Research Center. Dr. Bales is the current president of the American Society of Primatologists.
While I was able to develop the primers and run several successful PCRs, I have not yet isolated the segment of gene I am looking for. I plan on continuing running PCRs, and hopefully I will find what I am looking for. Receiving this ORCA grant has been a huge blessing in allowing me to pursue meaningful research.
Feldman, R. (2012). Sensitive parenting is associated with plasma oxytocin and polymorphisms in the OXTR and CD38 genes. Biological Psychiatry, 72(3), 175-181. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2011.12.025