Saturday, 31 October 2009

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Ecosmackdown: Pets Versus Solar Panels

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 04:32 PM PDT


It takes 17 times more land to feed American pets than would be required by solar farms producing enough electricity to meet all the demand in the United States.

Why do we know this?

A new book by Robert and Brenda Vale, two architects at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, looked into the ecological foodprints of the world's pets, New Scientist reported.

By examining the land and resources necessary to produce the meat and grains that compose pet food they discovered something startling: It takes over 90,000 square feet of land (that's two whole acres) to feed a medium-sized dog and 16,000 square feet of land to feed a cat.

The Humane Society estimates Americans own about 75 million dogs and 88 million cats. We did the math and found that feeding those animals takes about 294 thousand square miles of land. That's a little bigger than Texas!

That got us thinking because a default criticism of solar power has been to attack the amount of land it requires relative to nuclear or fossil fuel plants. Disingenuous or not, the idea that solar takes up too much land is widespread. For example, Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a long-time nuclear supporter, decried "energy sprawl" in a Wall Street Journal editorial last month.

The amount of land required to generate electricity for the nation does sound like an awful lot, sometimes. One recent calculation led by Vasilis M. Fthenakis, an environmental engineer at Columbia University's Center for Life Cycle Analysis, found that it would take covering 16,602 square miles[pdf] of land in the southwestern desert with solar energy converters like cadmium telluride photovoltaic panels to generate the 3,816,000,000 megawatt-hours of electricity that is used in the U.S. ever year. (Other estimates have found smaller solar land needs.)

That's why it's important to compare solar's land requirements with other American practices. Multiply anything by the scale of the United States and the numbers start to sound absurdly big. When feeding our pets takes 17 times more land than feeding our supposedly rapacious electricity demand, it's difficult to argue that energy sprawl, for solar, is a major problem.

See Also:

WiSci 2.0: Alexis Madrigal's Twitter, Google Reader feed, and green tech history research site; Wired Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Scent of Fear Keeps Male Bed Bugs From Mating With Each Other

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 10:47 AM PDT


Male bed bugs get confused in bed. Now a scientist has found a bug chemical signal that translates, "Whoa, buddy. I'm a guy too."

sciencenewsMale bed bugs grasp and try to mate with any other member of their Cimex lectularius species that has had a full meal of blood recently, says chemical ecologist Camilla Ryne of Lund University in Sweden. Single-minded males don't seem inclined, or even able, to distinguish other males from females at first.

At first contact, sex recognition for these insects works largely by trial and error, Ryne says. What corrects those errors, she has found, is a blend of chemicals that earlier work has also described as the bed bug alarm pheromone.

"This is the first time to my knowledge that anyone has shown that alarm pheromones are used for sexual recognition," Ryne says.

Females can release the substance when disturbed but typically don't when grasped by a male, Ryne says. But males do exude the scent when grabbed by another male. After a whiff of the stuff, misguided suitors back off, Ryne reports online October 24 in Animal Behaviour.

bedbug2Considering that bed bugs are making a comeback as a pest in the industrialized world, "knowing how they mate is important," says entomologist Joshua Benoit of Ohio State University in Columbus. He too has been studying the alarm pheromone, and he agrees that the bugs use it in several ways.

Pheromones may have achieved their fame in popular culture as dizzying lures for the opposite sex, but biologists have discovered plenty of other kinds of pheromones. Compounds can fuel aggression among male mice or urge baby rabbits to search for a nipple.

Bed bugs release the pheromone blend of the small, volatile molecules (E)-2-octenal and (E)-2-hexenal when disturbed, Ryne says. A mating attempt might indeed be disturbing, since males deliver their sperm by what's called traumatic insemination. They ignore the opening to the female reproductive tract and inject sperm with a needlelike appendage directly through the outer covering of a mate's body. In the abdominal area most commonly pierced, female bed bugs grow a mass of the kinds of cells associated with immune defense. Males, though, have no extra protection there.

To test the idea that the alarm pheromone helps mistakenly targeted males free themselves, Ryne painted nail polish over the glands that produce the substance, thus blocking its release. Males that couldn't signal chemically ended up in longer embraces than males dabbed elsewhere with nail polish.

For a different test, Ryne collected the substance by washing disturbed males with a solvent. When she applied wafted the extract over mating pairs of males and females, the males backed off. The finding showed that even in the presence of a suitable mate, the signal disturbed the males, she says.

Ryne herself can smell the pheromone, she says. It's a bit like almond, but not particularly pleasant. "Older people say that you used to be able to tell whose house had bed bugs because it had a peculiar smell," she says.

Images: 1) A male and femal bed bud mate. 2) A bed bug feeding on blood from a person. Rickard Ignell/Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

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Short Heels and Long Toes: A Surprising Recipe for Speed

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 10:11 AM PDT


Track coaches have long claimed that the best sprinters are born, not made. Now, new research on the biomechanics of sprinting suggests that at least part of elite athletes' impressive speed comes from the natural shape of their foot and ankle bones.

Using ultrasound imaging, researchers compared the feet of 12 top college sprinters with those of 12 mere mortals. Surprisingly, the athletes had particularly short heels and longer-than-average toes — features that actually put them at a mechanical disadvantage when running.

"What we found is that sprinters actually had less mechanical advantage than the non-sprinter subjects that we tested," said biomechanics researcher Stephen Piazza of Penn State University, co-author of the study published Friday in the Journal of Experimental Biology. "This was surprising to us because we expected that sprinters needed all the help they could get."

Piazza and his co-author, kinesiology graduate student Sabrina Lee, launched their study after they happened to measure the Achilles' tendon of a former NFL wide receiver, and were shocked by how little leverage his tendon provided.

achilles-tendon"If you think of your foot as being kind of like a wheelbarrow," Piazza said, "when you grab the handles of the wheelbarrow and pull up, you're doing what the Achilles tendon does. The longer those handles are, the easier it is going to be to lift up the load. If you had really short handles, you would have poor mechanical advantage."

Similarly, having a short "lever arm" on your Achilles tendon makes it harder to pull your foot off the ground — which is why the researchers were surprised to find short heels on a professional sprinter. But further research proved the football player wasn't an aberration: On average, top sprinters had heels that were 25 percent shorter than their non-athlete counterparts, as well as significantly longer toes.

To understand the paradox, the researchers set up a computer model of a sprinter's push-off. The simulation revealed that despite providing a mechanical disadvantage, the short lever arm of a sprinter's heel actually produced more force than the longer lever arm of a non-sprinter.

"It turns out that there's a trade-off that we think is going on," Piazza said. "The larger the lever arm of the Achilles tendon, the more the tendon has to travel up when you point your toes. What that means is that the calf muscles have to shorten more rapidly, and muscle that is shortening more rapidly can't generate much force."

In other words, sprinters sacrifice the mechanical advantage of a long lever for the benefit of a stronger push-off. Since quick acceleration over a short distance is the key to winning a short race, Piazza says the trade-off makes sense for sprinters. "He has to be able to generate a lot of force, but he also needs that leverage," he said. "It turns out that by giving up some leverage, you actually gain more in terms of force generation and get a net benefit."

According to the computer simulation, having long toes also makes sprinters speedier, by extending the time that a runner's foot makes contact with the ground. "Early in the race, the only way you have to speed up is through interaction with the ground," Piazza said. "If you want to speed up quickly, you need to have some meaningful interaction with the ground."

But like short heels, long toes come with a cost. Earlier this year, a group of anthropologists reported that long toes are less energetically economical for long-distance running. Led by evolution researcher Campbell Rolian of the University of Calgary, the group found that modern humans have much shorter toes than their early hominid ancestors, suggesting that the need for endurance probably superseded the need for speed and acceleration in our ancient relatives.

"The two studies are actually nicely complementary, and show that long toes provide more power for propulsion, but that this comes at a cost of greater muscle effort," Rolian wrote in an e-mail to "So there may be an optimal length at which you can get both a capacity to push off and some muscle economy."

Of course, without studying athletes over time, it's impossible to know whether elite sprinters are born with short heels and long toes, or whether these beneficial features result from constant sprinting.

"We usually think of the shapes of your bones as things that shouldn't be changeable with time," Piazza said. On the other hand, he points out that there are plenty of examples of diseases or activities that can gradually change how bones and tendons fit together, so it's possible that intensive training could affect the shape of an athlete's foot.

"I'd love to do a longitudinal study to follow kids or athletes doing sprint training," he said, "and see if there are changes in how their tendons attach on their bones."

Image 1: Michael Lokner/Flickr. Image 2: The Achilles tendon, from Gray's Anatomy/Wikipedia Commons.

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Friday, 30 October 2009

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Scientifically Haunted House Suggests You’re a Sucker

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 07:18 AM PDT


Fake blood, canned screams and plastic skeletons are fun, but if you want a real haunted house, turn to scientists.

To test whether it's possible to artificially induce paranormal experiences — or, from a different perspective, to technologically summon a spirit — researchers at London's Goldsmith College and architect Usman Haque designed a scientifically haunted room.

They were inspired by earlier studies in which test subjects reported contact with the phantasmic when exposed to electromagnetic fields and waves of infrasound.

This hasn't just taken place in the laboratory: Odd EMF fields have been recorded at reputedly haunted castles, and geomagnetic flux caused by shifting tectonic plates reportedly produces surges in poltergeist sightings. Meanwhile, infrasound waves below the level of human hearing have been linked to visitation.

Of course, ghosts — which 40 percent of the American public claim to believe in — are only one possible explanation. Perhaps people feel something, and what they call haunting is a uniquely sensitive power of perception. Maybe they're just suggestible.

So Christopher French, head of Goldsmith's Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit and editor of the Skeptic magazine, built the haunted room: a white, wood-frame canvas tent 9 feet in diameter, located in the front room of a London row house. It was entirely featureless, but hidden speakers cast infrasound waves like those measured in supposedly-haunted Coventry Cathedral. Other speakers projected sound waves that produced an electromagnetic frequency used in laboratory stimulation of paranormal feeling.

Each field's range was focused in a different part of the room, and some areas were field-free. If haunting indeed had a wavelength, then people would ostensibly report unusual experiences in the target areas.

haunt-plan1Seventy-nine students, friends of Haque and other volunteers entered the room, which operated during the Fall of 2006. Their responses were published this May in Cortex — and respond they certainly did. After spending less than an hour in the room, nearly three-quarters reported having more than three unusual feelings. Just six percent felt nothing. Among the common sensations were dizziness, tingling, disembodiment, dream-remembrance and "a presence." Several felt sexually aroused.

But there was a catch: The sensations had nothing to do with where they were standing in the room.

When French's team crunched the numbers, the only statistically significant association appeared in subjects who scored highly on a test of one's psychological predisposition to the sort of transcendental feelings generally experienced by epileptics with unstable temporal lobes.

There are a few different ways of looking at these results, said French. "It might be that certain people are wired up in a particular way, and in the right environment, they actually are seeing something that's objectively there, but others don't have the ability to see," he said.

But while that can't be ruled out, he thinks there's a simpler explanation: People tend to think about what they're told to. Asked to track strange feelings, they started noticing them. And the participants' response rates indeed followed what's predicted by models of suggestible behavior.

"We did manage to build an artificially haunted room, but it wasn't related to the environmental factors, but to suggestibility," said French, who'd hoped for a firmer result. An EMF effect would have been exciting, and opened up new lines of investigation, he said.

Of course, French still acknowledged that out-of-lab paranormal experiences could be real, or that his experimental waveforms may have failed to replicate those found naturally. He hopes to repleat the study using "a very different, very anomalous pattern of EMF activity" he recently recorded in Muncaster Castle, said to be one of the most haunted castles in the United Kingdom.

As for whether he'd felt anything inside the haunted room, French admitted that he hadn't spent much time there.

"I went in and out when we were setting it up, but I didn't even make myself a pilot participant," he said. "Maybe I should have."

Images: Christopher French

See Also:

Citation: "The "Haunt" project: An attempt to build a "haunted" room by manipulating complex electromagnetic fields and infrasound." By Christopher C. French, Usman Haque, Rosie Bunton-Stasyshyn and Rob Davis. Cortex, Vol. 45, Issue 5, May 2009.

Brandon Keim's Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter. Brandon is currently working on a book about ecosystem and planetary tipping points.

Don’t Tell Geico: You May Be a Natural Born Bad Driver

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 04:18 PM PDT


Next time you get cut off by a another driver, consider giving the offender a break: One-third of Americans might be genetically predisposed to crappy driving.

No, really, it's not just your imagination.

In a new study of college undergraduates, those with a common genetic variation scored 20 percent worse in a driving simulator than their counterparts.

"The people who had this genetic variation performed more poorly from the get-go and learned more slowly as they went along," said Steven Cramer, a University of California, Irvine neurologist, who works on helping stroke victims recover. "Then, when we brought them back four days later, they had more forgetting."

The single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP, is just one of millions of single-letter variations between humans' genetic codes. This one occurs in a gene that produces a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which helps regulate the formation of new synapses, and the maintenance of old ones. BDNF plays a very important role in what's called neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to rewire itself on the fly.

As described in a paper published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, study participants were asked to drive 16 laps in a driving simulator that was essentially a screen with a steering wheel. As they drove around the course, they attempted to keep their cars on a black strip in the center of the road. The software grades their ability to complete that task quantitatively. And, of a small sample of 29 students, people with that single genetic difference, called Val66Met, performed more poorly than their demographically similar counterparts.

Cramer considers the simulation a good proxy not just for driving, but for other complex motor skills tasks. Because it's not controlling a motor vehicle, per se, that he's interested in, but how the brain learns, or relearns complex tasks.

When people have a stroke, and a portion of their brain dies, they have to relearn tasks using different parts of their brains. Individual genes are only part of the symphony of influences that determine individual behavior, but the Val66Met variation appears to have an unusually strong influence on the brain's activity.

"There is mounting evidence that the one in three people who have this variation have less plasticity than the two thirds of people who lack that genetic variation," Cramer said.

Results from a separate study reported earlier this year in Scientific American also found that genetic variation in BDNF helped determined people's skill at a simple computer game.

The effect is so pronounced, in fact, that Cramer said he could imagine future stroke patient routing within hospitals based on the SNP.

"I wonder if there aren't going to be treatments, when they have traumatic brain injury and you're in the rehab ward, where they test the gene and say, 'Send them to the BDNF ward,'" he said.

So, if the presence of the gene makes you a worse driver, a slower stroke-victim recoverer, and possibly has other negative effects, why is the variant still present?

"Variations can stick around just for the fact that they are not that bad for you," said Bruce Teter, a geneticist who studies the brain at UCLA. "They don't kill you before you reproduce, in which case, there is no selective advantage or disadvantage."

But it also turns out that people with the Val66Met variant could be less susceptible to degenerative neurological disorders like Parkinson's and Huntington's.

"Originally people thought plasticity had to be good, as it's related to the ability of the brain to adapt and learn and things like that," Teter said. "But neuroplasticity can also be bad for you in situations where the kinds of changes that are seen are deleterious."

But if you want to stay out of car accidents, it's better to have the dominant BDNF variant, Cramer's study suggests. And if further work continues to support that idea, the question is, can or should we do anything with that information?

"Let's pretend that the one in three people are more prone to car accidents," Cramer said. "It's up to society to say, how do we deal with that fact?"

Image: Justin Fantl.

See Also:

WiSci 2.0: Alexis Madrigal's Twitter, Google Reader feed, and green tech history research site; Wired Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Share Your Stars: New Wired Science DIY Astronomy Flickr Group

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 01:45 PM PDT


We have been amazed by the astrophotos our readers and followers have been sharing with us. So to facilitate our ongoing amazement, and in keeping with our belief that there can never be too many space photos, we have created a new Flickr group for you to upload your favorite shots. We'll run the best of the bunch on Wired Science periodically so that your work can be properly gawked at by your fellow readers.

So join our DIY Astronomy Flickr group, and start wowing us with your nebulas, clusters and galaxies! Our first submission, the Orion Nebula by Elias Jordan, is pictured above. We'll also be tweeting @wiredscience about your astrophotography, so follow us there.

Image: The Orion Nebula. / Elias Jordan

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Follow us on Twitter @wiredscience, and on Facebook.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Hubble Captures Sparkling Jewel Box Star Cluster

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 10:11 AM PDT


This stunning image of the Kappis Crucis Cluster, nicknamed the "Jewel Box," was one of the last gifts from a retiring camera on the Hubble Space Telescope.

Just before NASA brought the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 back to Earth in mid-2009, it snapped this photo of the core of the NGC 4755 star cluster, the first comprehensive image of an open galactic cluster taken in multiple wavelengths. Using seven different filters, Hubble captured the Jewel Box cluster in far ultraviolet to near-infrared light. The different colors of the stars — from pale blue to bright ruby red — result from their differing intensities at various ultraviolet wavelengths.

Just bright enough to be seen from Earth with the naked eye, the Jewel Box was given its name by English astronomer John Herschel in the 1830's, who thought the sparkling blue and red stars resembled expensive jewelry. Like most open star clusters, the Jewel Box is made up of an array of sister stars, all formed from the same cloud of gas and dust with similar ages and chemical make-up. Located about 6,400 light-years away, near the Southern Cross in the constellation of Crux, the Jewel Box contains roughly 100 stars.

Besides Hubble, two other telescopes have also recently captured new images of the Jewel Box. A wide-field photo taken by the 2.2-meter telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla observatory in Chile shows the multi-colored cluster surrounded by thousands of neighboring stars. A close-up from ESO's Very Large Telescope captures the stars in detail and ranks as one of the best images of the Jewel Box ever taken from the ground. Both images can be seen in the composite photo below.


Image 1: NASA/ESA and Jesús Maíz Apellániz/Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain. Image 2: ESO, NASA/ESA, Digitized Sky Survey 2 and Jesús Maíz Apellániz/Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain.

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Humans, Shmumans: What Mars Needs Is an Armada of Robots and Blimps

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 09:50 AM PDT


Airships may be the key component in a new robotic system for exploring the celestial bodies most likely to harbor life like Mars and Jupiter's moon, Titan.

The dirigibles would provide regional observations and autonomous command for ground-based vehicles, while maintaining contact with orbiters.

It'd be a new role for airships, which were the wonder of the aerial world in the days before airplanes (and rockets and space shuttles).

"The balloon or airship has a lot of advantages: It's buoyant, so it keeps its altitude and you do not need to invest energy to keep it afloat," said Wolfgang Fink, who led the work at Cal Tech's Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, before accepting an appointment at the University of Arizona. "It has a lot of advantages, especially in places like Titan, which has a dense atmosphere that's perfect for an airship."

Current robotic exploration missions are limited. Orbiting telescopes like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provide low-resolution views of vast swaths of a celestial body while rovers and landers provide detailed observations of a tiny region. Fink argues that we'll need teams of robots to do any serious exploration looking for interesting features that might tip us off to the presence of life or geological activity.

And on planets with atmospheres, airships are the ideal middle layer for "tier-scalable reconnaissance," a vision Fink has spelled out in a series of papers over the past several years.


To test how teams of autonomous robots working together could explore an area, Fink's team built a miniature lab version of the system, as seen in the image above. At just 4 feet by 5 feet, it's not exactly the surface of Mars, but it allowed the team to test out a piece of software that picks out anomalous objects in a landscape, the Automatic Global Feature Analyzer.

The software doesn't try to place what it reads in images into known categories. Instead, it looks for the odd stuff out — the Waldo — within a series of images.

"If you do not know what you will encounter, you have to embrace the unknown," Fink said.

With the miniature lab tests complete, Fink plans to take his show on the road, probably to the Arizona desert. Over a large geographic region, they'll float an airship with on-board camera and release rovers controlled by the feature analyzer software.

"For initial test purposes, we could put a Coke can and see if the science algorithms will flag these anomalies," Fink said, "And then, once they are flagged, generate the navigation commands that are issued from the airships to the ground."

They plan to try the Coke can test in the next year. As time goes on, they will try more difficult terrains out because ultimately, it's the extreme areas of other planets that could prove the most interesting. By keeping the ground units cheap, they can also have more of them, allowing the missions to take greater risks.

"Mountain ranges, canyons, cliffs, those are the locations where interesting stuff might happen," Fink said. "You need to be able to get into those high risk areas to get a nice and interesting science return. You might lose some of these agents you deploy, but because they are simplified, you can deploy more of them and still afford to lose some of them."

The entire system — satellite, airships, and ground rovers — could be ready to go in the next decade, which would be long before NASA could actually use it.


Image: 1. NASA/JPL. 2. Wolfgang Fink. 3. The invasion of Normandy, U.S. Coast Guard Collection.

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WiSci 2.0: Alexis Madrigal's Twitter, Google Reader feed, and green tech history research site; Wired Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Birds Use Light, Not Magnetic Field, to Migrate

Posted: 28 Oct 2009 03:31 PM PDT


A cell in the eye may be worth two in the beak, at least when it comes to a migratory bird's magnetic compass. In European robins, a visual center in the brain and light-sensing cells in the eye — not magnetic sensing cells in the beak — allow the songbirds to sense which direction is north and migrate correctly, a new study finds. The study, appearing Oct. 29 in Nature, may improve conservation efforts for migratory birds.

sciencenews"This is really fascinating science," says biophysicist Klaus Schultenof the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was one of the first to suggest that migrating birds can sense magnetic fields.

Researchers have known that built-in biological compasses tell migrating birds which way to fly, but the details of how birds detect magnetic fields has been unclear.

"This is basically the sixth sense of biology, but no one knows how it works," says study co-author Henrik Mouritsenof the University of Oldenburg in Germany. "The magnetic sense is by far the least-understood sense in the natural world."

Some researchers had proposed that iron-based receptors in cells found in the upper beaks of some migratory birds sense the magnetic field and send that information along a nerve to the brain. Other scientists favor the hypothesis that light-sensing cells in birds' eyes sense the magnetic field and send the information along a different route to a light-processing part of the brain called cluster N.

Special proteins called cryptochromes in the birds' eyes may mediate this light-dependent magnetic sensing, Mouritsen says. Light hitting the proteins produces a pair of free radicals, highly reactive molecules with unpaired electrons. These electrons have a property called spin which may be sensitive to Earth's magnetic field. Signals from the free radicals may then move to nerve cells in cluster N, ultimately telling the birds where north is.

To find the location that houses the magnetic compass, Mouritsen and his colleagues caught 36 migratory European robins and made sure that the birds could all orient correctly under natural and induced magnetic fields. Next, the researchers performed surgeries on the birds to deactivate one of the two systems. The team either severed the nerve that connects the beak cells to the brain, or damaged the brain cells in cluster N that receive light signals from cells in the eye.

Birds with the severed beak-to-brain nerve — called the trigeminal nerve — still oriented perfectly, Mouritsen says. "No information from those iron crystals could get to the brain, but the birds oriented just as well," he says, suggesting that the beak cells are not important for orientation.

On the other hand, birds with damaged cluster N regions could no longer sense and orient to magnetic fields. These robins failed to pick up both the Earth's natural magnetic field and the artificial fields created by the researchers.

The new study "nicely confirms that the trigeminal nerve is not involved in this direction sensing," says John Phillips, a neuro-ecologist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. "This is an important advance in what we know about these systems."

Mouritsen thinks the cells in the beak might play a different role in magnetic sensing, such as picking up minor changes in the strength of the magnetic field along a north-south axis, he says.

Understanding more about how birds navigate and sense the environment may have important conservation implications, Mouritsen says. Migratory birds that humans have relocated often fly back to the original migratory grounds. But if researchers can figure out how the birds navigate, conservationists may be able to trick the birds into staying where it's safe.

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Mysterious Clouds Form in Box of Beads

Posted: 28 Oct 2009 12:00 PM PDT

With nothing more than beads in a glass box, physicists have revealed yet another mysterious property of granular solids, now recognized by scientists as a unique state of matter, like solids or gases.

When the box was filled to the brim and rotated, the beads moved in patterns known from convection clouds — another system whose basic physical dynamics are only dimly understood.

The experiment, displayed in a video posted Monday to arXiv, was a variation on one performed 70 years ago by Japanese physicist Yositsi Oyama, who observed that beads of different sizes placed in a rotating circular drum would eventually self-sort by size.

That intriguing result set in motion the study of granular solids, which behave in ways that can't be predicted with known physical laws. And though research has accelerated in the last decade, scientific understanding of granularity is roughly akin to that of fluid dynamics in the 18th century.

In the latest experiment, conducted by Otto von Guericke University physicists Ralf Stannarius and Frank Rietz, a partially-full rotating box of beads displayed the self-sorting patterns seen by Oyama. But when they filled the box nearly to the top — which, they expected, would cause the beads to clog — the beads instead moved in graceful, swirling currents.


Why this should happen is unclear. No equations exist to describe why such a slight change in packing density should produce such different system-wide behavior. "Known mechanisms for granular convection could not be applied," wrote Rietz and Stannarius.

Intriguingly, similar currents can be seen in clouds, or ocean currents. In a paper published last February in Physical Review Letters, the pair described the mysterious movements of beads in their box as suggesting "the existence of comparable phenomena in situations where so far no systematic search for dynamic patterns has been performed."

Image and video: Frank Rietz and Ralf Stannarius

See Also:

Citations: 1)"Convection rolls in a rotating box filled with beads." By Frank Rietz and Ralf Stannarius. arXiv, October 26, 2009.

2) "On the Brink of Jamming: Granular Convection in Densely Filled Containers." By Frank Rietz and Ralf Stannarius. Physical Review Letters, Vol. 100 Issue 7, February 20, 2009.

Brandon Keim's Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter. Brandon is currently working on a book about ecosystem and planetary tipping points.

Climate Change Caused Radical North Sea Change

Posted: 28 Oct 2009 11:28 AM PDT


Fueled by previously unappreciated links between climate and ecology, the North Sea has undergone a radical ecological shift in the last half-century, say scientists.

The very shape of the food web has changed, from plankton on up to the cod and flatfish that once dominated the icy waters, supporting rich commercial fisheries. They've been largely replaced by jellyfish and crabs.

The full scope of the change has gone relatively unnoticed, and could foreshadow changes in waters around the world.

"Climate-driven changes in the biology of the sea are largely hidden from view," said Richard Kirby, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth. "If similar changes occurred in a temperate forest, we would be shocked."

In a study published in the upcoming December Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Kirby and Gregory Bertrand, an oceanologist at the Lille University of Science and Technology, analyze decades of climate and ecosystem data gathered in the North Sea, a pocket of ocean bordered by the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.

Though relatively small, the North Sea has historically been a fabulously fertile fishing ground. Even now, it provides about five percent of the global fish harvest — but that's barely a third of what it yielded just a century ago.

Declining stocks have been blamed almost entirely on overfishing. However, though fishing pressures have indeed been intense, some scientists have suspected that water temperatures are also a factor.

Over the last quarter-century, the North Sea's upper layers have warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit. That seems like little, but in the North Sea, summer and winter water temperatures differ by just a few degrees. Even a single degree of change is relatively profound, and enough to disrupt aquatic organisms accustomed to functioning in a very narrow thermal range.

Whether the warming is man-made or not, it's a sign of times to come. Global ocean temperatures are expected to experience a comparable or greater rise during the next century. And the consequences, as anticipated by the North Sea, have been relatively unacknowledged. Most discussions of climate change impacts focus on the terrestrial. When ocean life is mentioned, it's in the context of of coral reef bleaching or acidifying waters.

Both those threats are grave, but the possibility of oceans completely changing their character, independent of acidification or reef effects, may be just as troubling.

"The effect of climate on the marine food web, the way small changes can be amplified through the web, that's the moral of the story here," said Kirby. "And food webs everywhere will be affected in a similar way."

At the heart of Kirby and Bertrand's findings is data from the Continuous Plankton Recorder Survey, which has been run in the North Atlantic since 1931, when explorer Alister Hardy invented the recorder — a specialized box that's dragged behind commercial ships, allowing researchers to take sea-wide samples of plankton and juvenile members of other species.

Combined with temperature records, the CPRS provides the most comprehensive climate-ecosystem dataset of any ocean, if not the entire world. And as temperatures have changed, so has every part of the food web, starting with its foundation.

"If you were to divide zooplankton into those that prefer warmer southern waters, and those that prefer colder northern waters, and look at the boundaries between those groups, it's moved north by over 700 miles in the last 40 years," said Kirby. "That's one of the largest range shifts, if not the largest, that's been recorded."

marinewebThe distribution of hundreds of species have changed, in every niche from plankton up to the North Sea's top predators. Cod and flatfish numbers have plummeted, and tuna have vanished. The ecological roles they once played are now occupied by jellyfish and bottom-dwelling crabs.

"The North Sea has fundamentally changed. It's a totally different ecosystem from what it was," said Kirby.

When Kirby and Bertrand crunched the numbers describing these patterns with equations designed to separate cause from coincidence, they found that temperature drove the changes. They also found evidence for what they call "trophic amplification."

"Because temperature acts on different components of the food web, the gross effect is amplified," said Kirby. "It affects the phytoplankton that copepods feed on; it affects the copepods; it affects the predators who eat the copepods; and all those effects, magnified, are much greater than any one alone." This compounding dynamic is responsible for the extreme rapidity of the shift, he added.

"The findings seem plausible to me," said Marten Scheffer, a Wageningen University ecologist who specializes in ecosystem-wide transitions. Scheffer, who was not involved in the study, also said that marine shifts are notoriously difficult to study. "Compared to work on lakes, or terrestrial grazing systems, there is little scope for experimental testing," he said.

According to Kirby, models by fisheries managers need to incorporate these dynamics and and policymakers contemplating global warming need to consider the magnitude of the change.

A similar dynamic may be at work in the Sea of Japan, which in recent years has become dominated by giant jellyfish.

"Marine ecosystems have always changed, but people don't realize how responsive they are, and how rapidly they may change," he said. "Humans shouldn't forget that we don't live in isolation from the food web."

Images: 1. Flickr/PhillipC 2. A model of North Sea ecosystem dynamics, from Richard Kirby and Gregory Bertrand.

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Citation: "Trophic amplification of climate warming." By Richard R. Kirby and Gregory Beaugrand. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Vol. 276 No. 1676, December 7, 2009.

Brandon Keim's Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter. Brandon is currently working on a book about ecosystem and planetary tipping points.

NASA Rocket Scientists Did ‘Frickin’ Fantastic’

Posted: 28 Oct 2009 10:48 AM PDT

Nothing gets the NASA boys fired up quite like a rocket launch.

The Ares I-X rocket, a modified prototype of the Ares I rocket that may send humans back to the Moon, and the 2.6 million pounds of thrust it put out, sent the engineers at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral into paroxysms of joy.

"You all did frickin' fantastic," said Ed Mango, the new launch director at Kennedy, shortly before having his tie cut just above the navel by the director of Kennedy, Bill Parsons.

The tie-cutting is an old tradition borrowed from the Air Force — and it matched the back-to-the-future mood of the event perfectly.

All the giddiness comes at an odd time for Ares I, and the Constellation program of which it's a part. An Obama-requested review of NASA's plans for human spaceflight wrapped up its work last week with a thumbs-down for the Ares I.

"I got tears in my eyes. All the naysayers…" said Parsons, before breaking off and continuing along a more positive line. "That was just one of the most beautiful rocket launches I've ever seen."

The NASA engineers are also looking to get some real data from the 700 sensors aboard the vehicles to test their models of how the new rocket is supposed to behave.

"The most valuable learning is through experience and observation," said Bob Ess, Ares I-X mission manager, in a release. "Tests such as this — from paper to flight — are vital in gaining a deeper understanding of the vehicle, from design to development."


Image: flickr/Matthew Simantov

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WiSci 2.0: Alexis Madrigal's Twitter, Google Reader feed, and green tech history research site; Wired Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Doctors Kill Parasitic Worms By Poisoning the Bacteria in Their Innards

Posted: 28 Oct 2009 10:13 AM PDT


In some African villages, nearly everyone is infected with Mansonella perstans, a parasitic worm that's remarkably hard to kill. It's resistant to standard anti-worm medications, but researchers have learned that an old antibiotic can vanquish the tiny beasts — in a roundabout way.

The parasites are stuffed with a type of bacteria called wolbachia, and apparently they depend upon those microbes for their own survival. By killing the bacteria inside of the worms, doctors can destroy the worms themselves.

To test that concept, an international team recruited volunteers with M. Perstans infections from four villages in Mali, and gave 69 of them a dose of doxycycline each day. After one year, all but two of the patients who took the antibiotic were free from worms in their blood.

"Doxycycline is the first drug that has been shown to be effective in clearing Mansonella perstans parasites from the blood of infected people," said Amy Klion, a doctor at the National Institutes of Health who led the study. "The fact that the parasites were not detectable in the blood 3 years after the 6 week treatment suggests that doxycycline also had an effect on the adult worms, which live in the tissues surrounding the lungs, heart and abdomen."

Roughly 120 million people worldwide are infected with filarial parasites. Many of those worms will fall after a single dose of albendazole and ivermectin, but M. Perstans is too tough for both drugs. Thankfully, it's far less destructive than other types of nematodes. It usually results in itching, fatigue, and dermatitis.

Wolbachia have proven to be the Achilles' heel of nastier parasites too. Before Klion and her team showed that doxycycline can be used to treat the annoying worm infections, other doctors learned that it is an effective way to eliminate their nasty cousins, the parasites that cause elephantiasis and river blindness.

Despite the success of those treatments, nobody knows for sure why the worms and bacteria are interdependent.

"The basis of the endosymbiosis between wolbachia endosymbionts and their wormy hosts is currently not understood.," wrote Achim Hoerauf, a doctor at the Bonn University Clinic in a commentary for the New England Journal of Medicine. "Some conclusions can be drawn from the fact that worms lack essential genes for certain metabolic pathways that are present in wolbachia, and vice versa."

Hoerauf suggested that the treatment might not work everywhere. In other parts of Africa, researchers have found worms that can live without wolbachia. Despite that concern, he is convinced that the antibiotic will work in some parts of the world. When the infectious disease expert emailed us, he was on his way to distribute the antibiotic in Ghana.

At less than two dollars for a six-month supply. Doxycycline is a bargain for nongovernment organizations. But they might not buy it for the purpose of eliminating M. Perstans.

"Doxycycline is not very easy to administer as a mass drug treatment since it absolutely cannot be given to pregnant women or children under the age of 12 because of effects on developing teeth and bones," said Klion. "Second, courses shorter than 4 weeks have not been very effective in other filarial infections, and this is a very impractical for mass administration."

Because the symptoms of M. Perstans infections are pretty mild, Hoerauf doubts that charities will try to eradicate it with doxycycline. But he thinks that the versatile drug will be used to treat many cases of river blindness.

Citation: A Randomized Trial of Doxycycline for Mansonella perstans Infection, New England Journal of Medicine, 361, 2009

Photo: DraconianRain / flickr

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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Silence! The Last of the Giant Radio Telescopes Is Listening to the Universe

Posted: 27 Oct 2009 05:00 PM PDT

<< previous image | next image >>

There's a geek mecca in them thar hills. And don't expect your iPhone's GPS to guide you to it. Hidden in the green hills of West Virginia, in a 13,000-square-mile National Radio Quiet Zone, is the world's largest fully steerable telescope.

The GBT (Great Big Telescope, Great Big Thing or Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, depending on whom you ask) is the most overbooked telescope in the world. The waiting list to get some time on this baby is long and prestigious. And with good cause: Its sensitivity to radio signals is unparalleled.

The telescope is so sensitive, in fact, that the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) has a van that drives around the surrounding countryside asking people to stop using their wireless speaker systems, electric fences, broadband wireless modems, military radar, etc. — anything that might interfere with the telescope's readings.

With the growing popularity of radio-array telescopes, the GBT may end up being the last single-dish telescope of its kind built in the world. The difference between an array and a giant single-dish like the GBT is the difference between a zoom and wide-angle lens on your camera. The GBT is extremely good at finding a source in space by searching a wide area, while the radio array is like a telephoto lens that good at looking at the details.

Read on for a tour of this towering instrument of space exploration.

Above: The GBT is 485 feet tall, a nudge taller than the Statue of Liberty and a nudge shorter than the Washington monument. It was put into service in early 2000.

Below: The NRAO's 140 telescope is just around the corner from the GBT. The 140 was out of service for a number of years, but has been brought back online in conjunction with an MIT project to study turbulent properties of the earth's ionosphere.

Photos: Jim Merithew/

DIY Botox: Site Offers Injectable Drug Without Prescription — With How-To Video

Posted: 27 Oct 2009 01:19 PM PDT


A website that sells a prescription drug similar to Botox without requiring a prescription claims it has more than 2,000 customers. Some have learned how to inject the botulism-derived drug into their own faces from YouTube videos produced for the site.

Discountmedspa sells a variety of other DIY cosmetic treatments, including prescription Renova, and lip-filling gels. The botulinum toxin-derivative for sale on the site is Dysport, produced by the pharmaceutical company Ipsen and is a competitor of Allergan's Botox. The site simply calls it "the Freeze."

A Grand Prairie, Texas, woman, Laurie D'Alleva, who appears to be the site's proprietor, performs treatments on herself in self-made videos posted to the site's YouTube channel. In one video, D'Alleva pulls out a vial of what is presumably Dysport and a syringe filled with saline.

"It's important to remember that you are mixing the potency of the botox," she says, mixing the contents of the vial with the saline solution. She then injects her forehead and the areas around her eyes.

Ipsen received FDA clearance to sell Dysport in the United States a few months ago, but it's a prescription medication. It's the first direct competitor for the branded Botox, which is the most popular cosmetic treatment in America. Doctors did more than 2.4 million Botox procedures in 2008, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. In recent years, the vast amounts of money spent on the treatment have attracted scams and knockoffs, which the FDA has had to crack down on. In May, the FDA also ruled the drug needed a tougher "black-box" warning label to reflect an increased understanding of the small, but real risks of the treatment.

In the U.S., it is illegal for anyone but a doctor or nurse practitioner to prescribe drugs to patients and only pharmacists can dispense drugs to people. Yet drug sellers on the internet routinely flout the FDA's regulations. A review published last month in the Annals of Family Medicine found more than 130 websites offering antibiotics without a prescription. The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy tracks thousands of sites that don't meet its standards for brick-and-mortar shops. LegitScript, a private firm that works with the NABP, has database of 47,633 internet pharmacies; 46,570 of them aren't up to snuff.

These sites are brazenly circumventing regulations that protect consumers from bad or fake drugs and ensure that the chemicals are used correctly. The laws were designed precisely to prevent Americans with little to no medical training from doing things like buying a form of toxin, mixing it with saline and injecting it into their faces. Yet, precisely that appears to be possible with the help of was able to complete the ordering process on for the Freeze without being asked for a prescription. In fact, the word, "prescription" does not appear anywhere on the website.

The domain's registration details are private, but, which refers back to, is registered to Cristie Stone, with the same phone number and e-mail address listed on discountmedspa's website. The physical address listed for is the home of the Manitoba Society of Pharmacists, which has no record of Stone.

"Not only is Christie [sic] Stone not a member or the Society, I can honestly say that I have never heard her name before," wrote Jill Ell, executive director of the society, in an e-mail to was unable to track down any trace of Stone anywhere, but did discover that D'Alleva's maiden name is Stone. reached D'Alleva's assistant, but had not heard back from D'Alleva at publication time.

The blog administrator, presumably D'Alleva posting under the handle Botox Queen, provided an explanation from a purported "long-time customer," Tamara Lesley, explaining how the site is able to offer a prescription product.

"Laurie belongs to the Texas Medical Council and is licensed to sell these products to the women that want to use them and understand that it is their responsibility to use them safely," she wrote.

Wired Science could not find an organization called the Texas Medical Council. It does not maintain a website and has not been mentioned in the press. A representative for the Texas Department of State Health Services had never heard of it.

Barry DiBernardo, a plastic surgeon from Mont Clair, New Jersey, had not heard of people home-administering Botox or Dysport, but did not think it was a good idea.

"I'm not aware of that," DiBernardo said. "You need to know where the muscles are, the depth, the dosage. That doesn't seem good."

Short of buying and testing it, there is no way to verify that the product sold on the site is the genuine article, but the site swears by it — and the legality of its practices.

In a blog post response to a customer's skeptical query, Laurie provided the following explanation for the legality of her site and the provenance of her products.

I know there is much information out on the net about fillers and Botox 'knock-offs'. This is not what I am selling! The products I have are from a company names Ipsen… I have a connection that allows me to get products that are not usually available in the states because I purchase other products in their line. Now the trick is I have to market it and label it under my own brand, to keep them and myself from getting into any legal trouble. It does take a leap of faith, but I assure you I have over 2000 customers now who love the products and are saving literally hundreds of thousands of dollars between us!

It's unclear how D'Alleva obtains the drugs and then resells them. Ipsen did not immediately respond to a request for comment from

Ipsen also sells Dysport in Mexico, so it's possible the drugs are purchased there and illegally imported into the U.S.

"If it's prescription-only, it doesn't matter whether it's over the counter in Mexico or not," said Carmen Catizone, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. "Offering a prescription drug without a prescription is illegal any way you phrase it."

Catizone also cautioned that the drugs might not actually be real, though his organization had picked up some buzz about purchasing Botox and its competitors without a prescription.

"Sometimes, if the site offers Botox, they may not really be selling Botox," Catizone said.

Users of the site, though, testify to a variety of experiences with the drugs that seem to indicate that the Freeze is actually a botulinum toxin-derivative, as's proprietor claims. If the site's comments are a con — it's a very elaborate one.

In comments on the discountmedspa blog, users testify to watching YouTube videos of doctors doing Botox injections to learn techniques for making themselves look the way they want. Dozens of cosmetic surgeons show off their Botox procedures in videos made to promote their services.

Lesley offered a helpful hint on how to inject the Freeze to make the corners of the mouth turn up so you appear to be always smiling.

"I watched a Doctor on do this to a patient and he warned people not to inject below the eyes however I had to put a smile on my face too," Lesley commented on a blog post. "The trick to this is to hold a pencil just at the corner of one side of your mouth and inject two units of Freeze at the very bottom of your chin. This will cause your [sic] very end of your mouth to turn up. Then do the other side the same way. If you don't get it even you may have a crooked smile so be very careful that the injection is placed in exactly the same place as the other side."

Her recommendation for another user is to "watch and you will learn a lot of some of the Doctors [sic] secrets to recreating your face the way you want to look."

Other women describe mishaps with over-injecting the drug.

"My Dr. would never inject the crows feet. I did and got GREAT results!" wrote a commenter named Pat. "Unfortunately, I can't read those little hash marks on the syringe too well and over injected above the brow on one side. A week later I'm now sporting a half closed and swollen eye, and look ready for Halloween!"

In January, reported on other similar websites that sell Melanotan, a tanning drug that has not been approved by the FDA, which has cracked down on the drug's manufacturers and distributors.

In response to queries from, the Texas Department of State Health Services released the following statement, but would not comment further.

"The Texas Department of State Health Services is aware of through a complaint we received. That complaint status remains open and under review," the agency wrote.

The complaint was made under the Texas Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which regulates the sale of prescription drugs like Dysport in the state.

"Botox is a prescription drug that must be dispensed or sold by a licensee pharmacy and only with a prescription from a licensed practitioner. Any over-the-counter sale of Botox is illegal," the agency affirmed.

The Food and Drug Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the illegal sale of Dysport, but asked for the web address of the offending site.

See Also:

WiSci 2.0: Alexis Madrigal's Twitter, Google Reader feed, and green tech history research site; Wired Science on Twitter and Facebook.

Bizarre Ancient Fly With Three-Eyed Horn Discovered

Posted: 27 Oct 2009 10:34 AM PDT


Dinosaurs weren't the only critters with spikes and horns to roam the Earth during the Cretaceous. Scientists have found a tiny fly with a three-pronged horn and spiky eyes preserved in a chunk of amber dating to roughly 100 million years ago. The fly has been named Cascoplecia insolitis (Casco meaning old and insolitis for strange, unusual) and is so bizarre that that it has been assigned to a new insect family, reports George Poinar, Jr. of Oregon State University in Corvallis.

sciencenewsMany insects, flies included, that have compound eyes also have three additional, simple eyes that sit atop their head. These simple eyes, known as ocelli, are thought to help insects keep their bearings during flight. In the newly discovered fly, the ocelli sit at the ends of each of the horn's three prongs. The eyes may have helped this "unicorn fly" detect approaching enemies as it crawled the surfaces of flowers looking for pollen, Poinar speculates.

4046517297_ea969348f2Each small unit of the fly's larger compound eyes spikes outward, rather than lying flat. Perhaps the spiked surface prevented pollen from sticking to the compound eye, notes Poinar. Pollen from two different plant species was also preserved with the specimen, which was found in an amber deposit in Burma.

The fly has tiny jaws, probably suitable only for munching pollen, unusually long legs and spiraled antennae. Photographs and a description of the specimen will appear in an upcoming issue of Cretaceous Research.

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Cockroach Superpower No. 42: They Don’t Need to Pee

Posted: 27 Oct 2009 09:44 AM PDT


To survive in hostile environments, cockroaches rely on their own vermin: Blattabacterium, a microbe that hitched a ride inside roaches 140 million years ago, and hasn't left since.

Researchers who sequenced the Blattabacterium genome have found that it converts waste into molecules necessary for a roach to survive. Every cockroach is a testimony to the power of recycling — thanks to their microbes, they don't even need to pee.

"Blattabacterium can produce all of the essential amino acids, various vitamins, and other required compounds from a limited palette of metabolic substrates," write entomologists in a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers have known that cockroaches need the microbes to survive: Kill Blattabacterium with antibiotics, and the insects die. They also knew that roaches store excess nitrogen — one of life's essential elements, needed to make proteins, amino acids and DNA — inside their bodies, in tiny deposits of uric acid. But researchers didn't know exactly what became of the uric acid after it was stored, or precisely what Blattobacterium did.

cockroach_metabolismSequencing the microbe's genome made the links clear. The microbe contains genes that code for enzymes that break down urea and ammonia, the components of uric acid. Other genes instruct the microbe to take the resulting molecules and use them to make amino acids, repair cell walls and membranes, and perform other metabolic tasks.

This allows cockroaches to subsist on nitrogen-poor diets, an ability "critical to the ecological range and global distribution of the cockroach species," write the researchers. And what a range it is: There are nearly 5,000 species of cockroaches, spread on every continent, even Antarctica.

Blattobacterium also helps free cockroaches from the need to urinate, said study co-author Srinivas Kambhampati, a Kansas State University entomologist. In humans and other terrestrial animals, otherwise toxic uric acid is diluted with water, then flushed from the body as urine. Cockroaches save that water. Compared to them, the iconic stillsuits worn by the fictional Fremen of Dune would be wasteful.

At this point in cockroach evolution, roaches are utterly dependent on Blattobacterium, said Kambhampati. "They've lost the ability to produce their own amino acids, like other animals do. They can't live without the bacteria," he said.

That raises the possibility of designing pesticides "that somehow interfere with the function of Blattobacterium, rather than directly killing cockroaches," Kambhampati said. But he doubted that any such pesticide would work for long before resistance developed, and seemed glum at the prospect of his research being used to exterminate an animal that's proved so fascinating to study.

"There's about five or six species associated with humans, and unfortunately they give a bad name to the 4,900 species that live quietly in the forest," said Kambhampati.

Images: 1. Flickr/Sarah Camp 2. From PNAS, a map of cockroach biosynthetic pathways; functions in which Blattobacterium is not involved are in red.

See Also:

Citation: "Nitrogen recycling and nutritional provisioning by the cockroach endosymbiont, Blattabacterium." By Zakee L. Sabree, Srinivas Kambhampati, and Nancy A. Moran. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 106, No. 43, October 27, 2009.

Brandon Keim's Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter. Brandon is currently working on a book about ecosystem and planetary tipping points.