In praise of the naked mole rat

Scientists have sequenced the genome of a strange little creature, the naked mole rat.  Why?  Because it never gets cancer, lives an unbelievably long life without mental decline, and has many other amazing powers that may hold clues for human health.

Mole rats are hairless, buck-toothed rodents four inches long that live in underground colonies in arid sections of Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea. Their social structure is the mammalian equivalent of an ant colony. There’s a queen who takes two or three male consorts and is the only female to reproduce. She lords over the rest of the realm — which can be as large as 200 animals — so that the other females cease ovulating and the males give up.

Mole rats can survive in environments low in oxygen (as little as 8 percent as opposed to 21 percent in the atmosphere) and laden with ammonia and carbon dioxide. Unlike other mammals (but like reptiles), they have a hard time regulating their body temperature. They have to move toward the warmer upper reaches of the burrow or huddle with their brethren when they get cold.

But their most unusual features are extreme longevity and apparently complete resistance to developing cancer.

Naked mole rats can live more than 25 years; mice live about four. Buffenstein said she has never found a malignant tumor in a mole rat in her 30-year-old colony, which has 2,000 animals. In a recent experiment, a group of mole rats had patches of skin painted with a chemical carcinogen at a dose 1,000 times stronger than what causes skin cancer in mice. None developed tumors.

A study published in 2009 found that naked mole rats had a molecular anticancer mechanism not present in mice or people. But a first look at the species’ full complement of 22,561 genes shows that’s just the beginning.

There are changes in genes involved in maintaining telomeres, the “tails” of chromosomes that determine how long a cell lives. There are changes in genes involved in marking damaged proteins for destruction. There’s an increase in “chaperone” genes that keep proteins folded into their right shapes. There are genes that appear to let the animals maintain stem cells in their tissues longer than other rodents.

The study looked at 54 human brain genes that become less or more active as a person ages. In the mole rat, 30 of those genes remain stable throughout life, and two others change their activity in a direction opposite to what occurs in human brains.

Mole rats have 96 gene families unique to the species. Interestingly, they and humans also share 178 gene families that neither mice nor other rats have.

via Naked mole rat genome may point way to long, healthy life – The Washington Post.

 

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

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  • MichaelZ

    What? No Comments!!!

    In 2050…
    “All Hail Our Rodent Savior!”
    He delivered us from death and cancer, he solved our societal ills and delivered us into our earthly utopia.
    May the Heterocephalus glaber continue to bless us!

  • MichaelZ

    What? No Comments!!!

    In 2050…
    “All Hail Our Rodent Savior!”
    He delivered us from death and cancer, he solved our societal ills and delivered us into our earthly utopia.
    May the Heterocephalus glaber continue to bless us!

  • Matt

    Are they sure it doesn’t develop malignant tumors? Because to be honest, the whole thing kind of looks like one big tumor to me.

  • Matt

    Are they sure it doesn’t develop malignant tumors? Because to be honest, the whole thing kind of looks like one big tumor to me.

  • Tom Hering

    As a cancer survivor, I feel properly chastised by MichaelZ. It’s wrong – just plain wrong – to work toward cancer cures. No good Christian hopes for such things. It shows a lack of trust in Jesus.

  • Tom Hering

    As a cancer survivor, I feel properly chastised by MichaelZ. It’s wrong – just plain wrong – to work toward cancer cures. No good Christian hopes for such things. It shows a lack of trust in Jesus.

  • Marie

    @ Tom Hering, say what? It is Christians who started hospitals in the first place. Some of the greatest cancer researchers and doctors have been Christians, and continue to be. Your comment is insulting and bizarre.

  • Marie

    @ Tom Hering, say what? It is Christians who started hospitals in the first place. Some of the greatest cancer researchers and doctors have been Christians, and continue to be. Your comment is insulting and bizarre.

  • Dan Kempin

    Marie, #4,

    You have to develop a nose for sarcasm if you hang out here. Tom is saying just the opposite.

  • Dan Kempin

    Marie, #4,

    You have to develop a nose for sarcasm if you hang out here. Tom is saying just the opposite.

  • Pete

    So the choice is either run the risk of cancer or look like this rat? Hmmm.

  • Pete

    So the choice is either run the risk of cancer or look like this rat? Hmmm.

  • Tom Hering

    Sorry, Marie. Thanks, Dan. Hilarious, Pete.

  • Tom Hering

    Sorry, Marie. Thanks, Dan. Hilarious, Pete.

  • Michael

    interesting stuff!

  • Michael

    interesting stuff!

  • Pingback: In Praise of the Creator of the Naked Mole Rat | Time For Discernment

  • Pingback: In Praise of the Creator of the Naked Mole Rat | Time For Discernment


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