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Eat Mole Rats, Live Longer?

a mole rate with anti-aging biochemical mechanisms

Not many people have heard of the naked mole rat. This 3-inch mammal is part of the rodent family and is primarily found underground in East Africa. Unlike their other rodent counterparts, they lack hair on their bodies making them look rather odd. And they live in large colonies that range from 70 up to 300 with all being birthed by a single female in the colony. While these features are both intriguing and unusual, it’s not these that scientists consider the most remarkable. Instead, it’s these creatures’ incredible anti-aging biochemical mechanisms that have attracted the most attention. With impressively low naked mole rat mortality rates, researchers have been trying to tap into their longevity secrets. And based on recent studies, they may have found an important clue.

a mole rate with anti-aging biochemical mechanisms
As anti-aging biochemical mechanisms go, the naked mole rat has a decent amount.

The average lifespan of the naked mole rat is about 30 years, which is 10 times more than other rat species. In fact, many live in excess of 40 years. For some time, the reason for these low naked mole rat mortality rates was lacking. But recently, it has been discovered that these rodents produce high levels of a substance that slows aging and protects against disease. And now, scientists have found a way to transplant the gene responsible for these anti-aging biochemical mechanisms into other mice. The results of these experiments have been notable to say the least, extending rodent lifespan by several years. An as a result, the naked mole rat might similarly hold secrets to human anti-aging strategies as well.

“Our study provides a proof of principle that unique longevity mechanisms that evolved in long-lived mammalian species can be exported to improve the lifespans of other mammals.” – Vera Gorbunova, Professor of Biology and Medicine at University of Rochester, New York

Why the Naked Mole Rat?

Before discussing the latest anti-aging research, knowing a little about the naked mole rat is essential. Found in countries like Kenya and Ethiopia, these creatures don’t look like your typical rat. Instead, they are pink-skinned and nearly hairless except for some whiskers and hairs between their toes. Likewise, they are burrowing mammals, forming an intricate network of tunnels underground, rarely coming outside. Their primary source of food is that of plant tubers, which they eat underground as well. And as mentioned, only a single female births an entire colony with all others serving as diggers and workers. Come to think of it, they sound more like a colony of ants than one of mammals.

(Read up on the latest anti-aging innovations in this Bold story.)

While these characteristics make the naked mole rat unique, it’s other features that are more impressive. Not only are naked mole rat mortality rates low with their longevity lasting several decades. But likewise, these mammals don’t typically succumb to common diseases. Specifically, neurodegenerative conditions are rarely seen, and they are resistant to cardiovascular problems. Arthritis is also uncommon as are cancers among this species. It is these anti-disease and anti-aging biochemical mechanisms that interest researchers. And these qualities seem to be linked primarily to one chemical substance. It’s been finding and reproducing this substance that’s been the biggest challenge.

a naked mole rate in all its glory
They may not look like much, but these little buggers have a handle on not growing old.

The Naked Mole Rat’s Longevity Gene

Currently, it appears low naked mole rat mortality rates are connected to a substance called high-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid (HMW-HA). This substance is known to markedly enhance a cell’s ability to repair itself from injury. It also offers significant protection to cells when it comes to cancers and malignancies. Compared to other rodent species, quantities of HMW-HA in naked mole rats are ten-fold greater. And it has been this discovery that led scientists to suspect this was the substance behind their anti-aging biochemical mechanisms. If similar levels of HMW-HA could be produced in humans, then longevity could be significantly increased. And we would have the naked mole rat to thank for it!

As yummy as it might sound, eating a naked mole rat isn’t going to accomplish this task. If higher HMW-HA levels are the target in humans, then it will have to be produced internally. Fortunately, the naked mole rat has a single gene sequence that’s responsible for making an enzyme called hyaluronan synthase 2. It is this enzyme that produces HMW-HA and might be transferrable to other mammals. Not only would these anti-aging biochemical mechanisms increase lifespan. But they would also reduce chronic disease burden in human populations. For some time, researchers have been trying to slow the degradation of HMW-HA in human beings. But combining these efforts with a longevity gene accounting for low naked mole rat mortality rates would be better.

“We hope that our findings will provide the first, but not the last, example of how longevity adaptations from a long-lived species can be adapted to benefit human longevity and health.” – Andrei Seluanov, Professor of Biology and Medicine, University of Rochester

The Latest HMW-HA Research

naked mole rat mortality rates as shown by one living in a hole
Naked mole rat mortality rates mean this rodent knows what’s up.

Recent research out of the University of Rochester has revealed that benefits of this longevity gene does exist. In an experiment involving mice, scientists used genetic engineering techniques to transplant the longevity gene that makes hyaluronan synthase 2. They took the gene from naked mole rats and modified them so they could be incorporated into regular mice. In doing so, they hoped to impart the same anti-aging biochemical mechanisms onto the mice. Since naked mole rat mortality rates are so low, this gene might reduce deaths of mice as well. As it turns out, they were right.

Extensive examinations of the mice receiving the naked mole rat longevity gene were performed. In terms of longevity itself, the mice receiving the gene lived 4.4% longer than expected. But these weren’t the only improvements. These same mice also had reduced occurrence of tumors and skin cancers. They also were found to have lower levels of inflammation throughout their bodies. And the mice also had a healthier gut and a higher level of overall health. Based on these findings, the researchers believed the study substantiated the anti-aging biochemical mechanisms linked to HMW-HA. It would seem this substance is a big reason why naked mole rat mortality rates are so low.

Burrowing Toward Greater Longevity

The most remarkable thing about this research is how certain species of mammals have adapted differently than others. The low naked mole rate mortality rates and extended longevity are due to its unique longevity gene. By producing much higher levels of HMW-HA, these animals live longer and healthier. Leveraging this knowledge and expanding precision medicine techniques, humans might be able to do the same. The more we learn about the various anti-aging biochemical mechanisms of other creatures, the more insight we will have.


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