In Today’s Science News, we learn about the importance of Wasps; that, in hunter-gatherer societies, women also participated in hunting; and how vaccine clinical trials work.
Wasps are valuable for ecosystems, economy and human health (just like bees)
Phys-D: April 29, 2021
Entry-D: June 20, 2021
Summary: Wasps are understudied compared to other insects such as bees. A study published in Biological Reviews compiles evidence of 500 academic papers that reviewed about 33,000 species of stinging wasps. Due to their predatory nature, they help to control the population of arthropods thus acting as a sustainable form of pest control.
Unlike other insect species, such as bees, wasps are understudied. The hatred for wasps is reflected by their role being poorly understood by society at large.
In a study that was published in Biological Reviews, evidence compiled of 500 academic papers that reviewed 33,000 species of stinging wasps shed more light on this issue.
- Wasps are top predators of other insects. They regulate the population of arthropods1 like aphids and caterpillars, thus serving as a sustainable form of pest control.
- Solitary wasps tend to be specialists and therefore may be suited for managing specific pests.
- Social wasps are generalist predators and therefore may be especially useful as a local source of control for a range of crop-eating pests.
- This form of biocontrol is worth at least $416 billion per year worldwide
- In Brazil, common wasp species are able to manage pest on two high-value crops (maize and sugarcane)
- Wasps also play a role in pollination: evidence was found that they visit 960 plant species. 164 (17.09%) of whom depend entirely on wasps. For other plants, they could serve as „backup pollinators“ if a plant loses its primary pollinator.
- Other uses are wasp-deprived medications: their venom and saliva have antibiotic properties, those of yellowjacket wasps have even shown promise in treating cancer.
- Lastly, in some tropical countries their larvae are already harvested for food
1 Arthropods (phylom Arthropoda) have an exoskeleton. Their distinguishing feature is the presence of a jointed skeletal covering that is composed of chitin (a complex sugar) bound to protein. Members of the phylom Arthropoda include spiders, centipedes, crabs and lobsters. Moreover, ~84% of all known species of animals belong to this phylum.
I conclude the first article with a quote from Co-author Dr. Alessandro Cini:
„The value of wasps in supporting our crops remains poorly understood; we hope that by rehabilitating their bad reputation, we can collectively get the most value out of these fascinating creatures.“
Like other animals, they are also threatened by climate change and habitat loss. By learning more about wasps and valuing their role in our ecosystems, we can also push forward conservation.
Early big-game hunters of the Americas were female, researchers suggest
SD-Date: 5th November, 2020
En-Date: 21st June, 2021
ScienceDaily Summary: „For centuries, historians and scientists mostly agreed that when early human groups sought food, men hunted and women gathered. Not so, say researchers.“
It was a long held believe that men were the hunters and women the gatherers in the early period of humanity. An archeological discovery and analysis of the remaints, however, overturned said conception.
The study was published on November 4th, 2020, in Science Advances.
Findings & Methods
- The remaints of a woman were found in a burial that contained a hunting toolkit with projectile points and animal-processing tools
- Objects that accompany people in death tend to be those that accompanied them while they lived, the researchers said
- A dental protein analysis – conducted by UC Davis postdoctoral researcher Tammy Buonasera and Glendon Parker, an adjunct associate professor – confirmed the gender
- In order to find out whether there was a pattern, the researchers looked at late Pleistocene and early Holocene burials throughout North and South America
- 429 individuals from 107 sites were identified; 27 were associated with big-game hunting tools. 11 were female, 15 were male
- According to the researchers, the sample was sufficient to conclude that female participation in early big-game hunting was ‚likely nontrivial‘
- Statistic analysis have shown this period, 30 to 50 % of hunters in these populations were female; a stark contrast to recent hunter-gatherers, farming and capitalist societies with low-levels of participation (‚certainly under 30 %‘, Haas explained)
The sex was identified through a new method by Parker, as the article explains:
„Parker, a forensic expert in the Department of Environmental Toxicology, helped determine sex through a proteomic technique he recently developed.“
Explaining vaccine clinical trial phases
ME-Date: 27th August, 2020
En-Date: 21st June, 2020
Summary: In order to ensure safety and efficacy of a new vaccine, clinical trials are conducted. It starts by Pre-clinical (before human trials; safety and effectiveness are tested and it is overseen by an independent ethics committee), then moves on to Phase 1 (small trials, around 100 volunteers; safety is the main objective, immune response test), Phase 2 (1,000 to 2,000 volunteers; still mostly safety, but also effectiveness included), Phase 3 (final trial before a vaccine is approved, about 10,000 volunteers; primarily focus on efficacy and whether the vaccine actually lowers infection), Phase 4 (data is still being collected on its safety and how well it works).
The summary above should already give a clear picture, however, now to the more detailed information on each clinical trial phase.
|Pre-Clinical||Before Human Trials|
– Robust data from laboratory required
– Investigators and an independent ethic committee must be confident
that is is both very likely to be safe and effective
|Phase 1||Volunteers: ~ 100 |
Primary Objective: Safety
– It is expected to be safe from the animal testings
– Blood tests are collected from the volunteers to test the efficacy of the
vaccine (did a immune response occur?)
– Multiple doses used to find the ideal dose for later trials
– Subjects are healthy with no comorbidities to ensure safety and avoid
|Phase 2||Volunteers: 1,000 to 2,000 |
Primary Objective: Safety (studies of effectiveness also conducted)
– The volunteers begin to be more diversed (e.g. broad age range) to
better resemble the population
– While it gives first insights into the actual protection from a pathogen,
these studies are not large enough to confirm that it provides protection
|Phase 3||Volunteers: 10,000 + |
Primary Objective: Efficacy (safety still remains a focus)
– Shows whether the vaccine significantly lowers infectiosity
– Size of volunteers depends on how wide-spread the disease is
– In any phase a vaccine can fail to show that it provides sufficient
protection; a number of vaccines candidates fail in phase 3 studies
|Phase 4||Vaccine has been approved |
– The approved vaccine is being widely used
– Data is still being collected on its safety and how well it works
With all that mind, some of you may wonder how the Covid-19 vaccines went through the phases seemingly so quickly. That is answered by the Medical Express article as well:
„In the case of COVID-19, we have been fortunate to see sufficient investment that has enabled planning for all phases of clinical trials to take place at the beginning, allowing the next phase of clinical trials to commence quickly, so as soon as the data from the previous phase supports it. This has meant that we are seeing vaccine development happen at a rate much faster than ever before without compromising at all on any of the usual processes required to be certain about the vaccine’s safety, as well as how well it is likely to work.“