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Smells Funny: Fish schools break up over body odor

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10:35am, October 24, 2007

Just an hour's swim in water lightly contaminated with a common pollutant can turn fish into rejects with an odor that causes their untainted schoolmates to shun them, researchers say.

In a lab test, brief exposure to 4-nonylphenol (4-NP), a surfactant used in many soaps, detergents, and other products, disrupted the normal tendency of banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanus) to cluster in shoals, says Ashley J. W. Ward, now of the University of Sydney in Australia. Contaminant concentrations were similar to what the fish might encounter near a sewage treatment outlet, he and his colleagues report online in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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