The immortal jellyfish and how Google predicts flu outbreaks

Things that wobble are generally awesome. There are two great examples that come to mind, though neither are jellyfish.

Nonetheless, one particular boneless beauty of the sea has got perhaps the most awesome power in existence: immortality. Turritopsis dohrnii, to give it a name, was collected first by marine biology student Christian Sommer in 1988. He kept this tiny creature in petri dishes to study and found a very strange thing happening, reported The New York Times this week.

The jellyfish got younger and younger until it reached the earliest possible stage of development – the polyp – then it started getting older again. The only problem is that basically everything in the sea can eat these chaps, particularly sea slugs. Proof that no matter how skilled you may be, eventually some waterheaded grunt is going to come along and mess things up for you. Sorry about that.

Scientists may be bamboozled about how Terry Turritopsis does his reincarnation thing, but they’re busy elsewhere building artificial dog noses. Brian Piorek of SpectraFluidics calls it a “nanoscale vapour detection platform”, which is capable of detecting trace amounts of molecules which may well indicate the presence of explosives. This makes for a safer life for bomb dogs which could be replaced by robots. And it also renders the punchline to a certain joke rather outdated, if not obsolete.

Snotty noses

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Talking of snifflers, outbreaks of flu really are a pain for everyone, including down here in paradise where there’s not even a word for “snow”. Hence why Jeffrey Shaman, an assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York, and Alicia Karspeck, a climatologist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado are going to be rather in demand once they put their computer modelling system live.

Essentially, the system tracks searches about flu on Google and by some clever trickery can forecast the development and spread of the virus on a regional level. The pair reckons that this can work seven weeks ahead of a potential outbreak on a wide level and one day, flu forecasts will run alongside weather reports.

Finally, as we suspected all along, the Pentagon is after the insides of our heads. It was announced last week that there’s a special “brain bank” somewhere in Washington, where they say they’re keeping samples of brains damaged on military service. Presumably, after the people who own said grey wobbly goo have died, we hope. They reckon that what they’re doing is studying how dementia develops. In one of the most oxymoronic statements for a while, Jonathon Woodson told that “mild traumatic brain injury” was a signature injury of war.

Here’s an idea: how about researching how to stop killing each other on the whims of politicians instead? Perhaps the jellyfish have it right after all.

Scientists may be bamboozled about how Terry Turritopsis does his reincarnation thing, but they’re busy elsewhere building artificial dog noses.

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