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Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Roborovski Hamster Research Revealed

By Catya
Catya is a judge with the California Hamster Association. She shares her experiences in hamster ownership from a high school student's perspective.

Click image to enlarge
hamster habitats
This is the "lab" where the hamsters were bred.
Honors Conference presentation
Photos Courtesy Catya
Catya's presentation of original research about hamsters condensed her work from a year into a 12-minute talk.

This past Saturday, February 28, I was at the Honors Research Symposium giving a presentation of my research into Roborovski hamster genetics. I’ve written a bit about this before, but I just wanted to share with you how amazing it felt to finally see this come to its conclusion. Well over a year’s worth of effort has led to this day.

For all these months, I’ve been doing specific test breedings of Roborovski hamsters, counting the number of pups, studying their markings, doing online research into genetics, e-mailing hamster breeders from around the world, forming my hypothesis, checking it against the data I got, gathering more data, checking it again — all the things that doing original research entails.

Scientists use diagrams called punnet squares to predict and track the results of specific breedings. These squares work kind of like a multiplication chart. The gene from the top column is mixed with one from each of the rows below, and the combination tells you what genes the offspring will have. I did so many of these I dreamed about them at night! Of course, many hamsters were spoiled rotten in the course of my research, but none were harmed in any way.

In the final months, I turned my findings into an abstract, submitted that abstract for acceptance to the Honors Research Symposium, and created a presentation explaining my research on hamsters. Making the presentation itself might have been the most difficult part — it was such a challenge to tell a year’s story in twelve minutes!

Time limit notwithstanding, it was extremely rewarding to finally share what I’ve been seeing with the world. During the course of my research, I found out from other hamster breeders that some people already knew that there were two versions of the white-faced gene in Roborovski hamsters. But I don’t think they knew exactly how the “semi-recessive” version worked.

To learn that, I had to work with a mentor on the Biology faculty of a nearby community college. My mentor told me what an “incomplete dominant” gene is, which nicely matched my observations of the “other” white-faced gene (and some of the other hamster breeders’ observations, too). Armed with the knowledge that this professor gave me, I could see patterns in the results that hamster breeders all over the world were getting and put a name to them. Hundreds of punnet squares later, I found myself in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd, telling the story of the “Blaze” gene in Roborovski hamsters and my quest to understand it.

The next step is to submit my abstract for publication in the journal that the Honors Research Symposium prints every year. If it is accepted there, then I will be sure to share with you all about it, and tell you what the Library of Congress number is so you can read it yourself!

Oh, and next time I write, I have exciting news about America’s Family Pet Expo 2009!

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