Naked mole rat DNA exposes its age-defying secrets

11 November 2011

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Category: Research & medical benefits

molerats.jpgA team of scientists have begun to unravel the secrets underlying the long life enjoyed by naked mole rats. They have identified genes that they believe are responsible for the animal's cancer-free life-span of 30 years or more in captivity. Other rodents of a similar size typically live for three or four years. An understanding of the genes and gene activity that confer these characteristics could lead to new ways of prolonging and enhancing human-life.

Naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) live underground in the deserts of East Africa. Their 30+ year lifespan is unique among rodents so the species is of great interest to researchers, especially in the fields of aging and cancer. Earlier this year a collaborative effort resulted in the sequencing of the species' genome, providing scientists with a potential treasure-trove of information to help them understand how the animal's cells avoid the dangers of such an abnormally long life.

In the current paper the scientists looked at the activity of genes in the animal's liver. They compared this to genes of a normal wild mouse, hoping that any differences they found might be responsible for the long life.

They found differences in genes involved with mitochondria, the power-houses of the cell, and oxidative stress, a potentially dangerous chemical imbalance that can damage DNA inside cells and cause cancer. They also found genes already linked to tumours in humans were much more active in the naked mole rats than in normal mice. The findings hint at the mechanisms through which the cells might avoid disease.