Naked Mole Rats Get Their Day in the Sun, Because Cancer

Turns out one of the world’s ugliest creatures, the naked mole rat, does not get cancer, even if you really hard to make it happen.

The coverage is fabulous:

Ed Yong, at National Geographic’s Phenomena:

Put aside their inability to feel pain in their skin, their tolerance for chokingly low oxygen levels, their bizarrely rubbish sperm or their poor temperature control. Don’t even think about how they live in ant-like colonies, complete with queens and workers. Ignore their ability to live for more than 30 years—an exceptional lifespan for a rodent of their size.

Instead, let’s talk about the cancer angle.

They don’t get it.

Carl Zimmer at the Times:

Lab mice are especially prone to cancer, for example; 47 percent of them develop tumors of one sort or another. Naked mole rats, on the other hand, have a profoundly different sort of life. They can live more than 30 years, and scientists have yet to find a single mole rat with cancer.

To understand this phenomenon, scientists have examined the naked mole rats’ cells. They’ve infected them with viruses that reliably trigger cancer in mouse cells, finding that their efforts fail utterly in naked mole rat cells.

Ewen Callaway at Nature:

Naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber), which are more closely related to porcupines than rats, are freaks of nature. The short-sighted creatures spend their lives in subterranean colonies in the service of a single breeding queen — H. glaber is one of only two ‘eusocial’ mammals ever discovered. The rodent doesn’t feel the sting of acids or the burn of chilli peppers, and seems to be the only mammal that is unable to regulate its body temperature.

However, the animal’s longevity and impunity to cancer are the reason why biologist Andrei Seluanov keeps around 80 naked mole rats in a special facility near his lab at the University of Rochester in New York state. The rodents have been known to live for up to 32 years, and scientists have never seen one with cancer. Mice, by comparison, rarely live past the age of four and do often die of cancer.

The only real downside was when someone told Yong that mole rats look like penises. Photo above. Judgment call.

Image by L.Cheryl. Some rights reserved.