Sunday, November 29, 2009

Naked Mole Rats Might Hold Key To Longevity

Who would have thought that the secrets to long life might exist in the naked, wrinkled body of one of the world's ugliest animals? Probably not many, but current research may be leading seekers of the Fountain of Youth to a strange little beast — the naked mole rat.

The naked mole rat is certainly not one of nature's cuddliest species. These small rodents are hairless, wrinkled, blind and buck-toothed. Stan Braude, Ph.D., lecturer in biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, however, is attracted to these animals and has been studying them for over 25 years, with about 20 of those years being in the field in Kenya.

Braude is currently working on a new book that will serve as a synthetic review of the past 20 years of research on naked mole rats. While various research has been conducted on naked mole rats in a lab setting, Braude and his students are the only researchers out in the wild with them.

"I make the case [in my book] that if you really want to understand the lab work you also have to know what these animals are doing in the wild," said Braude.

Some of the "hottest" research on naked mole rats today concerns senescence, or aging. Naked mole rats in the lab have reached up to 28 years of age. And it's not just the controlled environments of their captivity that are doing this. Braude has observed mole rats in the wild that are 17 years and older. But these are the breeders. Lab researchers didn't realize that in the wild workers only live two or three years.

"For a rodent of this size, they are ridiculously long-lived," said Braude.


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