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Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Naked Mole Rat Genome May Hold Key to Long Life
To most people, naked mole rats are ugly hairless rodents who live in underground tunnels. Most people don't ever see one outside of an exhibit at the local zoo. But a 2009 study and new research, together, may show that they are useful for much, much more.
Naked mole rats and humans share a surprising number of gene families. The naked mole rat, though, also has a large number of genes which are unique to its species and the unusual characteristics of its species. It is the only cold blooded mammal, and lives in a network of dark burrows and tunnels, with very little oxygen.
It also has some very useful gene variants which lead to very beneficial characteristics. Naked mole rats live into their 30s - sometimes more than 10 times longer than other rodents of their size. They have a strong network of chaperone genes for proteins, better maintain stem cells in their tissues, and are efficient at marking damaged proteins for destruction. Maybe most importantly, they are resistant to cancer.
The recent completion of the sequencing of the full naked mole rat genome may now open up several new doors for research. After the shotgun sequencing process, in which scientists sequenced many chunks of DNA and then aligned them together based on common strings of base pairs, they are now able to study the unique and specialized gene families within the naked mole rat. Researchers say they hope that this will lead to advances in human cancer research and prevention, potential new discoveries in the field of human lifespan increase, and help for victims of heart attack and stroke who, like naked mole rats, need to be able to survive with a severely limited supply of oxygen. The specialized abilities of these tiny bald rodents may be the secret to huge benefits to human health.