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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note/Curious Rats

Air Date: Week of March 11, 2005

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Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports that curiosity could help fight disease.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And just ahead a car that runs on air. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.

[SCIENCE NOTE MUSIC]

CHU: Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it could save the rat. That's according to researchers at Penn State, who found that more adventurous female rats survived cancer longer than their more timid counterparts.

Scientists studied 80 female rats from birth to death. Ninety-three percent of these rats developed breast and pituitary tumors over the course of their lives.

Researchers believed that rats with different temperaments might also have different ways of coping with disease. To test the theory, they built a miniature playground filled with foreign objects such as tunnels, bricks and stones. They then let the rats loose to explore, both as infants and later, as adults. Scientists noted which rats were quick to sniff out their surroundings versus those who tended to hang back. They, then, monitored the stress levels of both groups as an equal number of them developed cancers later in life.

The outcome: the curious rats lived for six more months, or 25 percent longer, than the more cautious group. They also exhibited more stress hormones than their more fainthearted sisters. Scientists suggest that hormone levels could be related to accelerated aging, and that certain personality traits could be an asset in fighting disease. That's this week's Note on Emerging Science, I'm Jennifer Chu.

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