There is much to envy about the naked mole rat. It is resistant to cancer and remains active for almost all of its life, which can span 30 years or more, the longest of any known rodent. The unusually good health of the bizarre-looking creature, which lives in harsh conditions in underground colonies in Africa, is of interest to scientists investigating age-related diseases in humans. No mole rat has ever been found to have cancer naturally and neither can tumours be induced with radiation or injections of cancer-causing genes. It seems that the mole rat’s tissues are very good at recognising abnormal cells, preventing them from dividing and repairing their DNA. Quite how mole rats avoid age-related problems such as osteoporosis, heart conditions, loss of muscle, infertility and a slowing metabolism until they reach extreme old age, is yet to be fully understood.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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