You're perfect, you dirty rat!
June 11, 2012 6:21 PM   Subscribe

Underground Supermodels: no cancer, ever, no pain, resistant to poisons, super long lives, young forever! OK, OK, it's just the naked mole-rats. But 'what can a twentysomething naked mole-rat tell us about fighting pain, cancer, and aging?' Naked mole rats don't get cancer, ever. They don't experience pain from many sources, are highly resistant to pollution from heavy metals, carbon dioxide, plant poisons and a wide variety of chemicals. Yet, they live an astonishing 30-some year lifespans, and are physiologically young for most of that time.

'Naked mole-rats, unlike other mammals, tolerate variable body temperatures, attributed to their lack of an insulatory layer of fur. Their pink skin is hairless except for sparse, whisker-like strands that crisscross the body to form a sensitive sensory array that helps them navigate in the dark. Both the naked mole-rat’s skin and its upper respiratory tract are completely insensitive to chemical irritants such as acids and capsaicin, the spicy ingredient in chili peppers. Most surprisingly, they can survive periods of oxygen deprivation that would cause irreversible brain damage in other mammals, and they are also resistant to a broad spectrum of other stressors, such as the plant toxins and heavy metals found in the soils in which they live. Unlike other mammals, they never get cancer, and this maintenance of genomic integrity, even as elderly mole-rats, most likely contributes to their extraordinarily long life span. In contrast to similar-size mice that only live 2–4 years, naked mole-rats can survive and thrive, maintaining normal function and reproduction, into their 30s.'

'Unlike mice, which very commonly develop tumors, naked mole-rats have never been found to naturally have cancer. Moreover, subjecting mole-rats to ionizing radiation does not induce much DNA damage, as seen in other animals, nor does it result in tumors, even 5 years later. Attempts to turn naked mole-rat cells cancerous via injection of oncogenes have also failed, whereas similar methods using human, mouse, and even cattle cells results in conversion to highly aggressive and invasive cancer-forming cells.6 Instead of starting to proliferate in an uncontrolled manner, transformed naked mole-rat cells immediately stop dividing, though they do not die.7 Similarly, naked mole-rat cells treated with a toxin or simply housed under suboptimal conditions immediately stop dividing until conditions improve.'

'Although naked mole-rats are the size of a mouse, weighing only about 35–65 grams, in captivity these rodents live 9 times longer. With a recorded maximum lifespan of 32 years, they are the longest-lived rodents known.10 And remarkably, they appear able to maintain good health for most of their lives. At an age equivalent to a human age of 92 years, naked mole-rats show unchanged levels of activity and metabolic rate, as well as sustained muscle mass, fat mass, bone density, cardiac health, and neuron number. These clear indications of both attenuated and delayed physiological aging are also accompanied by the maintenance of protein quality and gene expression levels.

Some of the oldest naked mole-rats (>26 years; equivalent to humans >105 years old) do begin to show signs of muscle loss, osteoarthritis, and cardiac dysfunction, demonstrating that mole-rats do, eventually, age like other animals. Somehow they delay the onset of aging and compress the period of decline into a small fraction of their overall lifespan. These findings of sustained good health are surprising given that the naked mole-rat is an exception to many of the current theories of why we age. For example, the widely accepted oxidative stress theory of aging attributes the gradual decline in function to damage caused by the free radicals or reactive oxygen species formed as an inevitable by-product of oxygen respiration. In much the same way that oxygen causes metal to rust when exposed to the elements, cell membranes, proteins, and DNA are damaged by the gas, and this accumulating damage, so goes the theory, causes physiological systems to malfunction. Naked mole-rats in captivity, however, show very high levels of oxidative damage at an early age, yet cellular function is not impaired, and the animals are able to tolerate these high levels of oxidative damage for more than 20 years.'
posted by VikingSword (45 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Good for them… but, hey, it's hard to be jealous of the life of a naked mole rat.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:30 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

It'll be interesting to find out what trade-offs were 'made' (evolved) to result in their longevity.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:34 PM on June 11, 2012

I enjoy my sensitivity to capsaicin, but I'd probably trade hot sauce for immunity to cancer.
posted by fzx101 at 6:37 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm just picturing the pearly waters of the fabled Fountain of Youth turning questers into wee naked mole rats immediately.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:41 PM on June 11, 2012 [18 favorites]

I, for one...
posted by pompomtom at 6:44 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Well, if all that involves eating our own poop, it may not be worth it. (scroll down)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:46 PM on June 11, 2012

We must drink their blood to gain their powers.

You first.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:46 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wonder if being eusocial puts different pressures on longevity. If workers are expensive to create then there's a competitive advantage to extreme longevity.
posted by Grimgrin at 6:49 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Mole rats are the Culture, the queens are Minds.
posted by howfar at 6:49 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

In the future, everyone will be a naked mole rat.
posted by emjaybee at 6:51 PM on June 11, 2012

... for 15 minutes.
posted by Pinback at 7:02 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

This is really interesting.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:05 PM on June 11, 2012

Absolutely fascinating.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:23 PM on June 11, 2012

There are other animals, like cockroaches that are also resistant to radiation and toxins.

The thing is, you can gradually 'evolve' things to be highly resistant to various things that would normally kill them, whether it's temperature and pressure or toxins or whatever. My guess is that the naked mole rats lived in an ecological niche where they were exposed to lots of carcinogens and gradually adapted to be more and more immune to them.

At the same time, though there are tradeoffs. I know if you look at antibiotic resistance in bacteria, if you remove the antibiotics, the bacteria gradually lose their resistance, because mutations that aren't resistant are slightly more metabolically efficient. So over generations, they slowly win out.
posted by delmoi at 8:06 PM on June 11, 2012

A previous naked mole rat adoration posting added these charming details:
They're also nearly cold blooded, impervious to pain, and feed their young on their own feces from the time they're a month old until they can eat the giant tubers that make up most of their diet.
(I thought there was something more recent, too. But maybe it was elsewhere in the news-o-sphere)
posted by autopilot at 8:06 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this. I saw naked mole rats at one of the zoos in the Netherlands and thought they were absolutely fascinating creatures (cute too, in a somewhat disturbing way).
posted by rjs at 8:26 PM on June 11, 2012

Time until Naked Mole Rat horror movie, probably made by The Asylum: seventeen minutes.
posted by JHarris at 8:36 PM on June 11, 2012

I have vitiligo and male-pattern baldness. There is like a 73% chance I am turning into a naked mole-rat.

Although I'm almost thirty. SHIT.
posted by davidjmcgee at 8:48 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

You know who else lived free of pain and disease until the age of 30?
posted by Phssthpok at 8:54 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've never been so turned on in my life. Nekkid.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:58 PM on June 11, 2012

I'm in my 30s and I have human-level intelligence. I think the question is, what can *I* tell the mole rats?

*Bustles off to a mole rat colony.*
posted by A dead Quaker at 9:08 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The words "naked mole rat" are fun to sing as the chorus of Peaches & Herb's "Shake Your Groove Thing".

Unfortunately, this causes cancer.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:28 PM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

Rufus, you lucky bastard.
posted by maryr at 9:35 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've always found naked mole rats notable because they look like mutant penises with legs...but now I have a real reason to find them notable. Thank you for that.
posted by jnnla at 9:57 PM on June 11, 2012

So I heard there was this thread about me?

I must say my health is pretty good. I have wonky knees that hurt sometimes. The longevity and no-cancer would be pretty great too.

(When I check Metafilter I often sing "naked mole rats!" as if I am announcing my presence to the forum. How handy tonight!)
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:05 PM on June 11, 2012 [17 favorites]

I wore a naked mole rat costume for Halloween years ago. I think most people assumed I was a wrinkly Cenobite.
posted by benzenedream at 10:31 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

The trade-off is that you are a NAKED MOLE RAT.
posted by roboton666 at 11:57 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

For Mefites near the Pittsburgh/Youngstown area, there's a colony of them between glass (like a giant mammalian antfarm) at Good Zoo at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:02 AM on June 12, 2012

Is there a word that means something like 'dystopia-ready'? 'Mithridatist'?
posted by Segundus at 12:51 AM on June 12, 2012

It'll be interesting to find out what trade-offs were 'made' (evolved) to result in their longevity.

They look like flaccid penises with legs and live underground.
posted by londonmark at 1:30 AM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

And we thought it was mice who were the protrusion into our dimension of hyper-intelligent pan-dimension beings, when all along it was the naked mole rats.
posted by Jakey at 3:05 AM on June 12, 2012

Amazing, especially the bit about their ability to tolerate ionising radiation.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 3:40 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe being butt-ugly is their secret?
posted by mermayd at 4:19 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I have to live underground and eat my own poop to live forever, I want hot sauce.
posted by oneironaut at 4:22 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

So, to live longer, you need to live a life not worth living?
I guess these mole rats must be acquainted with my physician...
posted by Skeptic at 5:39 AM on June 12, 2012

Very cool, but when I see them in Fallout, I'm still shooting them.
posted by Gelatin at 7:33 AM on June 12, 2012

"Very cool, but when I see them in Fallout, I'm still shooting them."

But kindly, mouring each early death in an appropriate fashion...

And I don't know about you, but Whuffles and the Naked Mole Rat Ranch are off limits to THAT sort of action...
posted by JB71 at 8:26 AM on June 12, 2012

I don't know who Rochelle Buffenstein is, but I work at the same university as Thomas Park and he is awesome. In fact, I think we have a naked mole rat lab in my building.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 10:08 AM on June 12, 2012

What? No Rats of NIMH references?
posted by double block and bleed at 11:01 AM on June 12, 2012

Mrs.Spiffy, are you sure you aren't thinking of the IT department?
posted by IAmBroom at 11:10 AM on June 12, 2012

I guess some of out IT folks do resemble naked mole rats...
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 12:43 PM on June 12, 2012

*our IT folks
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 12:44 PM on June 12, 2012

Also, I would LOVE to see a tv show/screenplay/book/cartoon titled "The Rats of NIMH" that chronicles the goings on of lab animals being used in studies funded by the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health). Those would be some crazy ass rats.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 12:47 PM on June 12, 2012

The Rats of NiMH? No wonder they have ten times the lifetime of ordinary alkaline rats...
posted by Devonian at 2:22 PM on June 12, 2012

What? No Rats of NIMH references?

We used those up in the extended-lifespan-mice thread.
posted by maryr at 2:53 PM on June 12, 2012

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