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Study: Toads can predict earthquakes

MILTON KEYNES, England, April 1 (UPI) — British scientists say they’ve discovered common toads can detect impending earthquakes, sometimes days in advance of any apparent seismic activity.

Researchers from The Open University said they found 96 percent of male toads (Bufo bufo) in a population abandoned their breeding site five days before an earthquake struck L’Aquila in Italy last year. The breeding site was located about 45 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.

The scientists said the number of paired toads at the site also dropped to zero three days before the earthquake.

“Our study is one of the first to document animal behavior before, during and after an earthquake,” the study’s lead author, Rachel Grant, said. “Our findings suggest that toads are able to detect pre-seismic cues, such as the release of gases and charged particles, and use these as a form of earthquake early warning system.”

The research is reported in the Zoological Society of London’s Journal of Zoology.

Work chemicals may up breast cancer risk

MONTREAL, April 1 (UPI) — A Canadian study found occupational exposure to synthetic fibers and petroleum products may increase a woman’s breast cancer risk, researchers say.

France Labreche of the Occupational Health Research Institute in Montreal suggests exposure to workplace chemicals and pollutants — synthetic fibers and petroleum products may increase breast cancer risk the most — before a woman reaches her mid-30s could triple her risk of developing breast cancer after menopause.

The study involves more than 1,100 post-menopausal women, 556 of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996-1997 in Montreal, when they were between the ages 50-75. More than 600 women acted as a control group.

A team of chemists and industrial hygienists investigated the women’s exposure to some 300 different workplace substances.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, finds women exposed at work to acrylic fibers had a seven-fold risk of breast cancer, while those exposed to nylon fibers had double the risk.

The researchers say their findings could be due to chance, but the findings are consistent with the theory that breast tissue is more sensitive to harmful chemicals before a woman reaches her 40s.

NASA and NOAA: 50 years of weather studies

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 1 (UPI) — NASA scientists say it was 50 years ago Thursday the United States launched the world’s first weather satellite, revolutionizing weather forecasting.

Meteorologists said the Television Infrared Observation Satellite, known as TIROS-1, opened a new dimension in meteorology for both the space agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates the National Weather Service.

“TIROS-1 started the satellite observations and interagency collaborations that produced vast improvements in weather forecasts, which have strengthened the nation,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “It also laid the foundation for our current global view of Earth that underlies all of climate research and the field of Earth system science.”

NASA said the first image from TIROS-1 was a fuzzy picture of thick bands and clusters of clouds over the United States. An image captured a few days later revealed a typhoon approximately 1,000 miles east of Australia.

“This satellite forever changed weather forecasting,” said Jane Lubchenco, NOAA’s administrator. “Since TIROS-1, meteorologists have far greater information about severe weather and can issue more accurate forecasts and warnings that save lives and protect property.”

NOAA and NASA scientists say they now are planning the next generation of weather satellites. Beginning in 2015, those spacecraft will have twice the clarity of today’s satellites and will provide more than 20 times the information.

Schizophrenia memory deficits cause found

NEW YORK, April 1 (UPI) — A U.S. study in mice suggests the biggest known recurrent genetic cause of schizophrenia disrupts linkage between the brain’s decision-making and memory hubs.

Columbia University researchers said that disruption in brain communications results in working-memory deficits.

“Our findings pinpoint a specific circuit and mechanism by which a mutation produces a core feature of the disorder,” said Dr. Joshua Gordon, who led the study that was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Simons Foundation.

The researchers said it’s been long suspected a brain connectivity problem was involved in schizophrenia, although the disorder is thought to be 70 percent heritable.

Prior to the new study, neuroimaging of schizophrenia patients had found abnormal connections between the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the executive hub, and the hippocampus, the memory hub. It was also known a mutation in the suspect site on chromosome 22 boosts schizophrenia risk 30-fold and the investigators said that tiny missing section of genetic material, called a microdeletion, has often turned up in genetic studies of schizophrenia. But the mutation’s link to the disturbed connectivity and working-memory deficit was not known, the scientists said.

In the new study, the investigators discovered mice with the chromosome 22 mutation demonstrated inferior synchrony, learning and performance levels as compared to control mice.

The research that included Drs. Joseph Gogos and Maria Karayiorgou is reported in the journal Nature.

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