Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mysteries of the naked mole rat

Naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) are not just odd-looking little mammals. They are every bit as bizarre as they look.
Where mice and other rodents their size may die of old age at 2, mole rats can live to 30. They don't get cancer. They don't have bone loss until well into old age. Their brains can stand being deprived of oxygen for 30 minutes. (Homo sapiens? Five minutes tops.) They don't even feel pain. That would seem a mixed blessing, given that humans who don't feel pain are always hurting themselves, but it seems to work out OK for the rat.
Naturally, scientists are curious about all these adaptations, most of which have obvious human benefits if (it's always a huge if) they can be replicated in our own species.
COMMENT: So remember, naked mole rats are not just the heroic little pet in my daughter's once-favorite cartoon, Kim Possible. They may actually become heroes of science and medicine in real life.

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