Friday coffee break

luwak coffee

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

From CJ: An apparently immortal jellyfish species reverts to its larval stage instead of dying.

[Christian] Sommer kept his hydrozoans in petri dishes and observed their reproduction habits. After several days he noticed that his Turritopsis dohrnii was behaving in a very peculiar manner, for which he could hypothesize no earthly explanation. Plainly speaking, it refused to die. It appeared to age in reverse, growing younger and younger until it reached its earliest stage of development, at which point it began its life cycle anew.

From Noah: It’s apparently possible to reconstruct the history of European wood-boring beetles from flaws in old woodcut prints. And someone has done just that.

The beetles only emerged a year or so after the [printing] blocks were carved. The holes they left must have been frustrating, but remaking them would have been expensive. So the blocks were kept and reused despite their defects, unless the beetles had really gone to town. The holes they left behind preserve a record of wood-boring beetles, across four centuries of European literature.

(The original journal article has a predictably delightful title.)

From Jon: Increased frequency of mammography has not increased the rates of detecting advanced breast cancer.

For years now, doctors like myself have known that screening mammography doesn’t save lives, or else saves so few that the harms far outweigh the benefits. Neither I nor my colleagues have a crystal ball, and we are not smarter than others who have looked at this issue. We simply read the results of the many mammography trials that have been conducted over the years. But the trial results were unpopular and did not fit with a broadly accepted ideology—early detection—which has, ironically, failed (ovarian, prostate cancer) as often as it has succeeded (cervical cancer, perhaps colon cancer).

From Devin: The purpose of data visualization has changed quite a bit — or maybe diversified? — since the origins of the field.

Those [early] charts were drawn to communicate, not to analyze. Snow’s cholera map often wrongly serves as an example of visual analysis, when it was drawn to convince. Similarly, Florence Nightingale’s chart of deaths in the Crimean War was used to illustrate her argument that improvements in hygiene would save many lives, and William Playfair illustrated the trade balance between England and its trade partners. [links sic.]

From Sarah: Microbiologists have found bacteria living in a sub-freezing, super-salty, oxygen-starved Antarctic lake.

Despite the very cold, dark and isolated nature of the habitat, the report finds that the brine harbors a surprisingly diverse and abundant assemblage of bacteria that survive without a present-day source of energy from the sun. Previous studies of Lake Vida dating back to 1996 indicate that the brine and its’ inhabitants have been isolated from outside influences for more than 3,000 years.

And: the Molecular Ecologist is still taking contributions for a blog carnival of “Knowing What I Know Now.”