AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: evaporation

Tickle, Tickle! : Great Apes Demonstrate Playful Teasing

Marco the chimpanzee at the Center for Great Apes

Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (MPI-AB), Indiana University (IU), and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have identified playful teasing behavior in four species of great apes. This behavior shares similarities with joking in humans, characterized by its provocative, persistent nature, and inclusion of play elements. The presence of playful teasing across all four great ape species suggests its evolutionary roots in the human lineage at least 13 million years ago.

Playful teasing, similar to joking, emerges in humans as early as eight months of age. Infants engage in repetitive provocations, such as offering and withdrawing objects as well as disrupting activities. In a study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers examined spontaneous social interactions among orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas to identify teasing behaviors.

The study involved analyzing teasing actions, bodily movements, facial expressions, and responses from the targets of teasing. Teasers exhibited intentional provocative behaviors, often accompanied by playful characteristics. The researchers identified 18 distinct teasing behaviors, such as waving or swinging objects in the target’s field of vision, poking or hitting, and disrupting movements.

Although playful teasing shares similarities with play, it differs in several aspects. Teasing tends to be one-sided, initiated primarily by the teaser and rarely reciprocated. Additionally, apes almost never use play signals like the primate ‘playface’ or ‘hold’ gestures. Teasing occurs in relaxed contexts and involves repetition and elements of surprise, similar to teasing in human children.

To offer an explanation for this teasing behavior among animals, oxytocin (love hormone) may play a role in doing so as well as promoting positive social interactions. Oxytocin goes into effects by binding to specific oxytocin receptors in the brain such as G protein-coupled receptors (as learned in AP Biology). Oxytocin receptors then activates the primary signaling pathways, involving the phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) pathway. Activation of PI3K leads to the production of second messengers, which regulate various cellular processes that contributes to the warm and fuzzy feeling we get due to oxytocin.

The presence of playful teasing in great apes, resembling behaviors in human infants, suggests its existence in our common ancestor over 13 million years ago. This study sheds light on the importance of understanding the evolutionary origins of behavior and the need for conservation efforts to protect these endangered animals.

Personally, I can definitely attest to the evolutionary pass-down of these playful teasings as I still find myself engaging in the same behaviors, oftentimes scorned and unreciprocated.

What are your thoughts on these findings?

Long Term Health Risks From COVID-19 Infection

A recent study examining the health records of 140,000 U.S. veterans suggests that risks of health issues such as diabetes, fatigue, or blood clots may persist for at least two years after a COVID-19 infection. 

As learned in AP Biology, the fundamental method in which SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the cells involves the interaction between its spike protein (S-protein) and the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor present on the surface of human cells. Upon initial contact, the S-protein of the virus binds to the ACE2 receptor. This binding triggers a series of events that hijacks the host cell’s machinery to release viral RNA and replicate itself, finally generating new viral components. COVID-19 can also trigger an excessive immune response known as a cytokine storm, which might lead to T cell obliteration.

The study compared veterans who had been infected with the virus to nearly 6 million others who did not contract COVID-19, analyzing new diagnoses, lab results, and prescription records. The research identified health problems that emerged from a month after individuals contracted the virus.

The research team discovered that patients hospitalized during their initial COVID-19 cases had a higher likelihood of facing subsequent health problems. But those with milder initial infections showed a higher risk for approximately one-third of the medical issues analyzed compared to those who didn’t test positive for the virus. This group, comprising mostly milder COVID-19 cases, could potentially strain the healthcare system more, according to Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at the Veterans Affairs Saint Louis Health Care System.

The most prevalent issues observed align with commonly known long COVID symptoms found in other studies. These include fatigue, memory problems, loss of smell, blood clots, metabolic issues, and gastrointestinal problems. Furthermore, patients initially hospitalized were approximately 1.88 times more likely to experience acute gastritis (stomach inflammation) two years after infection compared to those without a COVID-19 record, while non-hospitalized patients had a risk factor of 1.44 times.

Finally, Al-Aly and colleagues determined that among every 1,000 individuals infected with the virus, there was a collective loss of 150 years of healthy life due to persistent symptoms in these patients. This stark revelation underscores the severe impact of long COVID, highlighting its destructiveness, as noted by McCorkell. Other studies, such as the U.S. Census’ Household Pulse Survey, have similarly noted how COVID disrupts the day-to-day lives of many patients.

Ultimately, with recent increases in COVID-19 transmissions, I strongly advocate for maintaining our vigilance and adhering to health guidelines, such as practicing good hand hygiene, and staying updated on vaccination recommendations. As a fellow germaphobe myself, I will certainly take heed of these practices. These measures remain crucial in curbing the spread of the virus and safeguarding both individual and community health. As the article mentions, even a mild COVID-19 infection could potentially lead to health issues in the months or years following the initial illness.

Let’s all do our part to keep our communities safe and healthy!

SARS-CoV-2 without background

Meet The Horrific Parasitic Wasp That Devours Its Victims From Inside Out!

Capitojoppa amazonica female

Scientists at Utah State University have recently discovered a new genus of parasitic wasps that employ a multitude of strategies involving impaling its victims, sucking on their blood, before finally eating them from inside out, all while laying its eggs inside of them.

I have always be fascinated with creepy insects and their distinctive characteristics and behaviors, but this newfound genus with such bizarre behavior might top my list as the scariest!

The name of this parasitic wasp, Capitojoppa amazonica, is a combination of ‘capito,’ alluding to its notably bulbous head, and ‘joppa,’ referencing to a similar genus of wasps.d

Brandon Claridge, a lead researcher of the project, stumbled upon this horrifying insect during their expedition in the National Reserve of Allpahuayo-Mishana in Peru, where they employed malaise traps to ensnare as many flying insects as possible. These traps eventually lead to the capture of a bright yellow wasp with a almond-shaped head and distinctive tube-like appendages. Upon closer examination, the scientist identified that the captured species was an adult female known as a ‘solitary endoparasitoid:’ a parasite that lays a single egg inside its host (caterpillars, beetles, spiders). After the egg hatches, the wasp larvae will start to eating the host from inside out.

‘Once the host is located and mounted, the female will frantically stroke it with her antennae,’ Claridge said to Live Science via email. He added, “If acceptable, the female will deposit a single egg inside the host by piercing it with her ovipositor (a tube-like, egg-laying organ).” The wasp’s oviposition also involves intricate cellular processes, which can potentially trigger the release of enzymes or chemicals to facilitate egg deposition.

Beyond depositing eggs within its host and consuming their internal organs, Capitojoppa amazonica can also exhibit some other eerie and fascinating behaviors. For instance, after stabbing their hosts, these wasps will proceed to extract hemolymph, a blood-like fluid found within insects, from the oozing wound.

Hemolymph can also carry hormones – insulin, growth hormones – to target cells or tissues. As learned in AP Biology, hormones are signaling molecules that regulate various physiological processes, and hemolymph can facilitate that process by transporting hormones to interact with specific receptor proteins on the surface or inside target cells. Then, once the hormone binds to its receptor, it triggers a cascade of cellular responses such as gene expression, activation of enzymes etc… to carry out vital functions within the cell, ensuring the well-being of the wasps.

According to Claridge, “females will even stab the host with the ovipositor and feed without laying an egg as it helps with gaining nutrients for egg maturation.”

This lethal parasitic wasp was only one out of the 109 newly identified species that the team has uncovered.

But what do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below about this incredible species.




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