Don't Cry for the Naked Mole Rat It Lives Forever and Doesn't Get Cancer

Illustration for article titled Don't Cry for the Naked Mole Rat It Lives Forever and Doesn't Get Cancer

This creature can live 30 years. Are you terrified? Me too. But the naked mole rat might help us find the fountain of youth and a cancer cure, so I'm trying to reign in my desire for them all to perish.


They have no fur or hair and just a few straggly hairs. They barely have any eyes. They have been compared to penises. They have buck teeth. They live in burrows in the deserts of East Africa in communities that resemble a beehive (they have a queen and a colony). This guy thinks they're adorable.

But the most notable thing about the naked mole rat might be its genome. Scientists at the University of Liverpool and Harvard University are hunting for the key to the critter's longevity as well as its resistance to cancer. They've found some clues by sequencing the animals whole genome and comparing it to a regular old rat. Compared to other rats, the naked mole rat has increased activity of certain genes, and the researchers suspect those genes are responsible for the creatures' health advantages.

Mole rats are tricky because even though they live in a physically stressful environment that would lead to increased rates of cancer in most animals, the disease has never been detected in a naked mole rat. The new findings, published in Plos One show that their genes help them manage their stressors.

Scientists think the same genes in humans play a role in dealing with cell damage, so they hope studying the buck-toothed rat will give insight into human aging and cancer. The thing might one day save your life! So maybe we should ease up on the penis jokes. [PLOS One; Image: Roman Klementschitz]

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This on the other hand, are all cancer.