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By appearance alone, the mole rat wouldn’t win any awards in the elegant art of evolution; the wrinkled rodent’s ability to counter the effects of aging, however, is something for scientists to fawn over.
Naked mole rats, also known as desert mole rats, have many distinct attributes that set them tail and snout above the competition: they have the longest life span of rodents; they’re resistant to cancer; and, despite their flaccid physiques, the sturdy sand puppies remain fit and active most of their lives.
To find out what’s keeping the rodents living longer and cancer-free, scientists took a closer look at how cellular senescence works in the naked mole rat.
Across the animal kingdom, senescence is a phenomenon that keeps living cells from dividing, which is ideal because it helps prevent rogue cells from developing into cancer. On the flip side, senescence contributes to aging because cells that don’t divide can’t replenish. Instead, the cells deteriorate, taking the body along with it.
In naked mole rats, senescent cells are better behaved.
Researchers at the University of Rochester found that while senescence does occur in the naked mole rat, the structure by which cells divide is surprisingly different than in mice, which live a fraction as long.
“In naked mole rats, senescent cells are better behaved,” researcher Vera Gorbunova says. “When you compare the signals from the mouse versus from the naked mole rat, all the genes in the mouse are a mess. In the naked mole rat, everything is more organized. The naked mole rat didn’t get rid of the senescence, but maybe it made it a bit more structured.”
How such an orderly system evolved in a mole rat may hold clues to anti-aging and cancer prevention.
Learn more about the mole rat from Science Daily.