This week in science – Nov. 5

Mark Hendricks, Science & Technology Editor Ω

SARS may have formed in bats

A new study has revealed that bats may be responsible for the SARS epidemic that broke out in 2003. Gábor Kovács/Flickr Commons

A new study has revealed that bats may be responsible for the SARS epidemic that broke out in 2003. Gábor Kovács/Flickr Commons

A study published on Oct. 30 in the journal Nature has determined that the SARS epidemic may have originated in horseshoe bats in China.

Although bats were long-considered suspects for originating the SARS epidemic, it was believed that the disease needed a palm civet to act as an intermediary, changing the virus into a form that could be contracted by humans.

This changed when scientists were recently able to isolate a live virus from the fecal matter of the horseshoe bat, and with it were able to infect kidney cells in bats and pigs and lung cells in a human.

This doesn’t mean that bats are guaranteed to be the source of SARS, but it does mean that the palm civet may not have been necessary as an intermediary.

Find out more: www.iflscience.com

 

A transistor that functions in the same manner as a synapse

Material scientists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have developed a transistor that functions in the same manner as a brain synapse.

The transistor has infinite variable states, unlike standard transistors which only have an on and off setting.

“The transistor we’ve demonstrated is really an analog to the synapse in our brains,” said co-lead author Jian Shi in a press release. “Each time a neuron initiates an action and another neuron reacts, the synapse between them increases the strength of its connection. And the faster the neurons spike each time, the stronger the synaptic connection. Essentially, it memorizes the action between the neurons.”

This means that the transistors will undergo actual physical change in response to the flow of information. This mimics the process based learning that happens in the human brain and could be used in extremely powerful and efficient computer systems in the future.

Find out more: www.seas.harvard.edu/news

 

A lava based planet that shouldn’t exist

Kepler-78b is a new planet that was discovered composed of lava with a similar density to Earth and an impossibly close orbit. Photo courtesy Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Kepler-78b is a new planet that was discovered composed of lava with a similar density to Earth and an impossibly close orbit. Photo courtesy Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Astronomers have discovered a planet that is made of lava and has a similar density to Earth.

“This planet is a complete mystery,” David Latham, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said in a press release . “We don’t know how it formed or how it got to where it is today. What we do know is that it’s not going to last forever.”

The planet contradicts current theories. The discovery, Kepler-78b, orbits its star every eight and a half hours, and is less than one million miles from its star. This is one of the tightest orbits ever observed.

Current scientific theory says that the planet could not have formed this close to the star, nor could it have moved there.

Despite this, Kepler-78b isn’t going to be around for very long, cosmologically speaking. It’s gradually drifting closer to its star and will be ripped apart by the gravity of the star in roughly three billion years, according to current theories.

Find out more: www.sciencedaily.com