AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: gambibambi

Put Down, the Camera, Stop Taking Selfies: The Pitfalls of Being a Narcissistic Male

Photo Credit: Baking_in_pearls at

Do you like to look good? Do you like to look so good that you like to look at yourself in the mirror, like a lot? Well you might be a narcissist. According to a recent study done at University of Michigan, all that time you spend dolling yourself up and obsessing over your appearance can put you at higher risk for cardiovascular problems and high blood pressure, well that is if you are a male. This study “examined the role of participant narcissism and sex on basal cortisol concentrations.”

The Experiment:

Using saliva samples, researchers measured baseline cortisol hormone levels in student participants. Cortisolsignals the level of activation of the body’s key stress response system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Participants were asked not to do any activities that would trigger the body’s stress response before testing the hormone levels. Elevated levels of cortisol in a stress-free situation would indicate chronic HPA activation, which has significant health implications such as increased risk of cardiovascular problems and high blood pressure. Next, the students filled out a questionnaire, which tested the five components of the narcissism personality trait. According to researchers, “two of these components are more maladaptive, or unhealthy — exploitativeness and entitlement; and the other three are more adaptive, or healthy — leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, and self-absorption/self-admiration.”

The Results and Findings:

Researcher, Reinhard  says “narcissists have grandiose self-perceptions, they also have fragile views of themselves, and often resort to defensive strategies like aggression when their sense of superiority is threatened. These kinds of coping strategies are linked with increased cardiovascular reactivity to stress and higher blood pressure, so it makes sense that higher levels of maladaptive narcissism would contribute to highly reactive stress response systems and chronically elevated levels of stress.” However, it what was curious about the scientists’ findings was that higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, correlated to males that tested positive for negative aspects of narcissism (such as exploitativeness and entitlement), but the link did not exist in females with negative aspects of narcissism. Even more interesting, neither males nor females with the three positive narcissism traits (leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, and self-absorption/self-admiration) showed no correlation whatsoever to cortisol levels. These results are particularly interesting because it suggests that narcissism influences how people respond to stressful events as well as their everyday routines. For example, the HPA axis may be chronically activated in males with unhealthy narcissism even if there is no actual stressor. This constant stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, or stress response system, could lead to health risks in the cardiovascular system.


For More: (“Expensive Egos: Narcissism Has a Higher Health Cost for Men”) (The Study) (“Narcissistic Heterosexual Men Target Their Hostility Primarily at Heterosexual Women, the Objects of Their Desires, Study Finds”) (“Narcissism May Benefit the Young, Researchers Report; But Older Adults? Not So Much”)







Are Early Birds and Night Owls Just Neurologically Wired Differently?

Photo Credit: National Media Museum

Are you an early bird? Perhaps you’re a night owl? Well researchers at the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta have been doing studies that have found that their may be neurological differences between morning and night people.

After using a questionnaire to separate subjects based on habits, researchers used magnetic torque imagining-guided brain stimulation to test things like muscle torque and excitability of pathways through the nervous system. The tests found that while morning people’s brains were most excitable at 9 in the morning and increased throughout the day, evening people were most stimulated at 9 at night. However, researchers found that night people’s strength increased throughout the day and morning people’s strength maxed out by night time. This is interesting because both groups increased reflex pathway ability for stimulation as the day went on, but the night group didn’t max out as the morning group did. This is evidence supporting the notion that everyone’s nervous systems function differently.

“What does this mean though? Why’s it important?” Well increasing our understanding of the NS allows us to enhance our ability to work towards cures for neurologic diseases. The principle that everyone’s brain and nervous system functions differently could lead to multiple methods specialized for curing patients and ultimately higher success. On top of this, it could lead to a better understanding as to why certain people do certain things (ex: psychopaths vs. normal), why some people are rhythmically sick more often than others, and why some teenagers are more antisocial and prone to depression.

Love Hormone: From Maternal Love to Romantic Attachment to Basic Survival Need

Photo Credit: Roberto Pagani


The hormone oxytocin, known as the Love Hormone and sometimes the Cuddle Hormone, is responsible for a plethora of emotional and nervous responses in our bodies. It is a hormone exclusively found in mammals. It causes maternal bonds to form between mothers and their children along with romantic bonds to form between monogamous pairs. Oxytocin controls many social responses that aid bonding and even cause us to feel sympathy. Oxytocin is also known for its ability to cause subjects to feel content, reduce anxiety, and feel calm and secure around one’s mate. The presence of oxytocin is a basic survival adaptation for mammals because it causes them to trust members outside the family unit and therefore permits mating to occur among unrelated members of the same species, thus creating a healthier, more diverse gene pool.

Maternal Love

It’s not surprising that oxytocin is only present in mammals. After all, it controls the release of milk to the nipples during lactation, helps dilate the cervix and trigger labor, and aids formation of bonds between members of species that are vital to the survival of many mammals. One particular bond that oxytocin helps initially form is that between mother

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and offspring. However, one study found that oxytocin levels are higher when first creating a maternal bond than once the bond has been made, therefore oxytocin begins the maternal behavior in the mother, but does not solely maintain it. Researchers have also found that the higher level of oxytocin in mothers during pregnancy, the stronger the bond between mother and child will be once the baby is born and the more maternal the mother will act towards the baby.

Romantic Attachment

Oxytocin is also responsible for causing romantic attachment to form between a monogamous pair. Oxytocin is the cause of the anxiety a person feels when they have been separated from the one they love or, more specifically, have been monogamously paired with. When a monogamous pair is with each other, oxytocin is released. This release causes them to feel content, happier, relaxed, and trusting: basic components of “feeling in love”. However, when the pair is separated for a prolonged period of time, separation anxiety kicks in because the oxytocin which was keeping stress levels low before is no longer being release. Large amounts of oxytocin are released during sexual intercourse and orgasm, hence its name “the love hormone”. Therefore, habitual sexual intercourse between a monogamous pair works to strengthen the romantic bond and causes heightened separation anxiety.

Mammalian Evolutionary Benefits of Oxytocin

The presence of oxytocin is a basic survival adaptation for mammals because it causes stress levels to fall and trust levels to rise, thus it creates the proper conditions for bonding between non-family members or in other words, strangers who they’re instinctually wired to avoid. The social bonding between non-family members aided and maintained by oxytocin is the psychological strategy which enables humans to override our neophobia and to mate with and create a strong, life-long bond with a complete stranger. Mating with non-family members is fundamental to a species survival because it creates a healthier, more diverse gene pool. On top of social bonding that leads to mating, the maternal instincts and maternal bonds are increased by higher levels of oxytocin. The presence of oxytocin in mother is vital for mammalian survival because they have evolved to care for our young and provide them with milk and protection until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Without the oxytocin present during labor, mammals wouldn’t have maternal instincts when offspring is born, the dilation of the cervix would become impaired, milk would not be let down to the nipples during lactation (so there would be no lactation), and mothers wouldn’t have the strong bonds or urges to care for their young.


My Opinion and Conclusion

We know that oxytocin causes romantic bonds to form between monogamous humans and causes us to feel sympathy, but what about animals? The “Love Hormone” is known to form maternal bonds between rat mothers and their young and even helps rats form life long monogamous mating bonds. Is it possible that if oxytocin forms bonds and causes sympathy in humans and also causes pair bonding between animals that it could also cause animals such as rats to feel sympathy? Evidence of this would be groundbreaking because it would prove that animals are capable of feeling emotions previously thought to be solely possessed by humans.


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When life gives you lemons, use it to clear up your acne!



Photo Credit:, courtesy of Jane Rahman

Tired of pimples, blackheads, and zits? Frustrated with stubborn acne scars that just don’t seem to go away? Well, the answer to your problems may be more simple than you think: just put some lemon juice on it!

First of all, what causes acne?  Acne is basically the result of built up of dead skin cells, oil and bacteria in the pores. Acne often first appears simultaneously with puberty because of the body’s hormones which trigger an increased production of sebum or oil on the skin that can clog pores and allow bacteria to build up and inflame pores, thus resulting in the formation of a pimple.

So why are certain foods like lemons helpful in getting rid of acne? Well, lemons are packed with various vitamins and nutrients that not only hep prevent acne, but also get rid of previous damage to the skin. Lemons are  rich in Vitamin C,  a nutrient vital to the body’s formation of two major building blocks of skin: collagen and elastin. On top of that, Vitamin C is also an antioxidant that can rid the skin of free radicals. Lastly, Vitamin C acts an anti-inflammatory by increasing the body’s production of glutathione, main antioxidant your liver relies on for detoxification which the removal of toxins from the body and helps decrease inflammation.

But once you’ve rid your face of acne you might be faced with another conundrum: how do I get rid of all those marks and scars left from years of acne? Well again the answer is lemon juice! Severe acne left untreated can leave long lasting and unattractive marks. Lemons contain alpha hydroxy acid removes the top layer of the skin along with dead skin cells and in effect softens the appearance of stubborn marks.

So now that you know why lemons are good for your skin, the question is how do you use them to get rid of acne and marks? Well the answer is quite simple: through internal and external application. After washing your face in the morning and before going to bed simply apply some lemon juice to a cotton ball and rub all over your face. This is one way that cells absorb the nutrients and vitamins that aid skin health. Also, adding lemons or lemon juice to your diet allows your body to absorb the nutrients and antioxidants that will help you get rid of acne. If you can’t stand the sour taste of biting into a lemon, simply add some lemon juice to water (oh and drinking lots of water also helps aid skin’s health so staying well hydrated helps fight off acne too!).

So there you have it, two simple steps to getting rid of your acne and stubborn acne scars! It’s a cheap and easy way to getting healthier skin so why not give it a try! Do you know of any other foods that can help get rid of acne or boost skin health?

For more on acne care:

I Got it From My Mama . . . and My Papa

Photo Credit: By Me

Ever wonder why Justin Timberlake could belt it out or how come Usain Bolt is so fast? Well the answer’s pretty unexpected, but not too surprising: genetics. Now while genetic prowess is not the sole key to these superstars’ successes, recent studies have shown that certain genes are attributed to superior athletic performance and feel of rhythm.

Recent studies have show that babies are born something called beat induction, the ability to follow a beat. Prior to this study, it was thought that basic music skills like rhythm were solely learned or an offshoot of language. However, scientists were able to study two and three-day-old babies’ reactions to changes in rhythms and they found that babies brains experienced  a momentary disturbance, known as a mismatch negativity (caused by the failure of an expected stimuli to occur), when the beat changed. It was impossible that the newborns could have learned beat induction in a few days, so it was obvious that it is an ability passed down genetically. Beat induction is a relatively new genetic trait , one only found in humans; even our closest primate relatives do not have this skill. It is even thought that beat induction may have been an adaptation gained to help humans with conversational communication.

Geneticists have been doing more and more groundbreaking research about the connection between inherited traits that may cause offspring to be more athletic or suited for competition at a higher level. For example, in 2003 Australian geneticists identified a gene called Actinen A (ACTN3), which codes for a protein that helps build fast-twitching muscles and muscle fibers that move with greater force, thus speeding up leg movement. The more fast twitching muscles an athlete has, the better they are at burst energy sports like sprinting, football, and baseball. Recent reports show that 70% of Jamaicans have the ACTN3 gene, which could explain Jamaican sprinters like Usain Bolt’s success at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Similarly, Olympic swimming champion, Michael Phelps, may have also inherited advantages for movement in the water. Phelps has many characteristics commonly attributed to Marfan Syndrome. Marfan Syndrom is a connective tissue disorder that strengthens the body’s structures and could possibly explain how Phelps swims faster than any other human being. Researchers are also currently studying the gene which codes for slow-twitch muscle fibers that are advantageous for endurance sports. By identifying these genetically inherited advantages could radically change athletic competition, allowing athletes to create specific training regiments beneficial to their unique genetic composition.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So research tells us that both beat induction (musical rhythm)  and athletic prowess can be inherited, but the question is how crucial are these inherited traits to success in a given field? What other factors like environment, mentality, mental endurance, or determination play into the molding of a virtuoso or olympian? What really makes a superstar a superstar?


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Are Canadians Genetically Superior?

Photo by Anirudh Koul Flickr

I mean they do have Ryan Reynolds,  Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, Ellen Paige, that tall guy from Glee, and Beiber. Well, maybe Bieber doesn’t isn’t a testiment to Canadian superiority, but recent studies have found certain signs of rapid genetic changes among the recent residents of a small Canadian town,  Ile aux Coudres, in the last 140 years. These changes include the average age of first maternity dropping from 26 to 22, resulting in larger families which are advantageous in rural areas.

Now while some may argue that this is merely an effect of the rural culture, anthropologist and geneticist, Emmanuel Milot says “Culture shapes the selection pressures acting on the age at first birth and the reproductive history of women in this population [therefore,] the cultural context was favoring the selection of some genes.” With the help of the Catholic Church’s detailed record keeping, Milot and his team were able to identify this trend as one attributed to genetic rather than environmental changes.

This study supports the school of thought that humans are still evolving and examines microevolution over the course of just a few generations.  Other studies show that certain human populations in different regions are evolving differently still today. A classic example of this regional evolution is the Mongoloid Race‘s decreased amount of sweat glands and small eyes. These are regional adaptations meant to be advantageous against the cold, snowy environment in which they live. Less sweat glands means more water conserved and less sweat released in order to avoid having it freeze on their skin, thus avoiding dehydration and hypothermia. Smaller eyes are beneficial because they help keep the sun’s glare from the snow at a minimum. These are all examples of ancient regional evolutions, similar to the current day changes occurring in some small Canadian villages.

It is definitely exciting to think that we are still evolving and adapting to our environment. It is a testament to the human race’s ability to change and adapt which has led us as far as we are today. Have you noticed any recent changes in your region’s population? Do you see any growing genetic trends in today’s youth?


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Koala Chlamydia

Photo Credit: Jonathon D. Colman

For generations the koala bear has been a cuddly mascot from down under, bringing in approximately $1 billion in tourism to the Australian economy a  year, but the species is being plagued by a heinous disease: Chlamydia. Yes, that’s right, Chlamydia. Studies show that between 50 to 80% of koala bears are infected with the bacterial infection which causes conjunctivitis, incontinence, prostatitis, infertility, and kidney damage.

According to recent reports, the sexually transmitted disease has caused serious population damage over the last decade. In 2003, studies showed that the koala population was at approximately 100,000, but the 2009 survey reported a drop to as few as 43,000 koalas in the wild. Experts fear that if these numbers continue to fall at the current rate, the koala will reach extinction within a mere 30 years.

And, with the disease spreading faster than ever, there is little conservationists can do to treat the infected population due to the absence of a vaccine. Unfortunately, however, a small percent of koalas is being treated with long-term antibiotics and anti-inflammatories in order to provide temporary relief to the suffering animals. But as the disease continues to run rampant, there seems to be little hope for the koala bear’s survival, which raises the question: why now?

Some experts believe for the combination of climate change and human development of koala bear natural habitat have increased the disease’s ability to spread among individuals. Climate change has caused heat waves and drought to sweep across much of the eucalyptus forests where koalas live and has resulted in the overall weakening of many koala populations unable to cope with such temperatures. In recent years, the species has also lost inordinate amounts of their habitat to human development which pushes them into a smaller and smaller region. This encroachment forces koalas into closer quarters, which, along with their already weakened state caused by climate change, results in the extremely rapid spread of Chlamydia among individuals.

But if the extinction is so pressing and the situation is so bad, why hasn’t the Australian government stepped in? Well until recently Australia officials have been avoiding taking action, but just this summer the Australian senate has finally agreed to address the problem and evaluate whether or not the koala bear should be an endangered animal under the protection of national law. Unfortunately, the process is taking longer than anticipated. A decision was supposed to be in by August, but here we are in mid-October and the koala bears are still unprotected by the government. How many more koala’s will have to die before the Australian senate takes action? And if they do take action, will it be too late to save the iconic marsupial from down under?


For more information on the current situation go to:

Dear Darwin: What Makes Ryan Reynolds “Sexy”?

Photo Credit: Paco Paco Flickr

Now we all know that a big jaw, prominent brow, and bulging muscles are conventionally thought of as attractive features in a man and that large breasts, an hour-glass figure, and big eyes are attractive in women, but have you ever wondered why?

Well the answer lies in an unexpected place: science. According to the Evolutionary Theory of Attraction, what men and women  perceive to be attractive is actually based on adaptational behaviors that traditionally helped survival. Studies show that women look for masculine features such as a defined jaw, prominent brow, and muscular build because these often to reflect physiological and behavioral traits such as strength, aggression, virility, and a strong immune system, which would be advantageous to pass on to offspring and would mean that the man can provide and protect his family.

So while women’s attraction is rooted in a man’s ability to provide for his family, men on the put more emphasis on signs of fertility and youth. The hour-glass figure: large breasts and “child-bearing” hips, and youthful features such as plump lips, a hip-to-waist ratio of 0.7, a face with a high forehead, good skin, and big eyes are signs to men that the prospective mate is fertile and young. Such features helped ensure the male that his genes would be passed on to his offspring. Other factors such as symmetry, especially facial symmetry, is attractive because it means that there are strong genetics at work according to researchers and experts.

Recent studies show that when a woman chooses a mate, often times she must subconsciously choose between a macho man and his more wimpy counterpart depending on her situation. While the macho man has preferential genes to pass on to offspring, these traits often mean tendency to abandon, hostility, and promiscuity. The less masculine man is more likely to provide the stability, love, and care for a family. In fact, according to expert, Dr. DeBruine’s study, a woman’s environment greatly plays into her attraction between these two types of men. In her study on women in countries with poor health standards, women preferred men with more masculine features more than those who lived in more stable and healthy societies. This is a classic example of natural selection because the women look for healthier genes often associated with masculine, macho attractive men.

So that is why we find movie stars like Angelina Jolie, Brad Bitt, and Ryan Reynolds are attractive: evolutionary adaptations meant to help ensure our survival and the successful passing on of genes to offspring. Do you agree with this theory of attraction? And which category would you put yourselves in ladies, those who go after Mr. Sensitive or those who go after Mr. Dangerous?


For more on this go to:—Evolutionary-Theory&id=2236366

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