The Naked Mole Rat is arguably the hardiest mammal on earth. Now, scientists have sequenced its DNA in order to unlock its secrets.
Native to the Horn of Africa, the mole rat can live as long as 30 years; other rodents of comparable size don't live longer than four years.
Scientists believe the rats are resistant to neoplasia, or the abornormal proliferation of cells that leads to many life-threatening conditions. As such, they may hold the key to understanding the affects of biological aging -- and the diseases associated with it -- as well as cancer.
Humans are one of the more susceptible species of mammals to cancer, which is caused by abnormality in the genetic materials of cells. Aging, too, is known understood to be a cellular process.
Naked Mole Rats possess two genes, genes p16 and p27, that are believed to give them the ability to resist neoplasia. Their longevity could be attributed to their efficiency at recycling proteins on the cellular level, reported Science 2.0, citing Seluanov et al., 2009. It's also thought that the creatures' ability to repair DNA contributes to their longevity.
Scientists plan to study the rat's genes in parallel with other closely related but short-lived species using a comparative approach. The study is to be led by Liverpool University.
Scientific advances have allowed scientists to take a more cellular approach to pressing health concerns like aging and cancer. Earlier this month, a study published in Science Translational Medicine suggested that rapamycin, an immunosuppressant drug, could reverse the effects of aging by inhibiting the pathway of mTOR, a life-span and protein synthesis regulating protein.
In Time magazine, Professor Randy Strong of the University of Texas described rapamycin's effect this way: We're actually tricking the cells into thinking that they're depleted of nutrients. Rather than the animals losing weight -- we haven't noticed any weight loss -- they may be just using their proteins more efficiently, and then repairing proteins more efficiently.