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

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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.

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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.