A Naked Mole Rat. Credit: Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. The article featured image: Credit: Raymond Mendez/Animals Animals—Earth Scenes.

The naked mole rat has been long known for having a special relationship to aging and longevity. As it can live for more than 30 years. About 10 times as long as any other rodent. It also has a remarkable resistance to tumors and cancer.

A team of scientists at the University of Rochester in New York and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, therefore, set about to analyze this handsome species of a rat to find its secrets to health.

Image credit: Zack Weinberg / Flickr

Cancer Secret

They managed to find what could contribute to the rat’s remarkable resistance to tumors and cancer. And this is a sugar-like molecule called “HMM-HA”. A form of Hyaluronan, which is a long sugar polymer.

Hyaluronan is common in the skin, cartilage, neural tissue and other connective tissues of mammals. Hyaluronan synthases (HAS) play roles in all of the stages of cancer metastasis. It is suggested that that the larger hyaluronan found in naked mole rats physically cages potential cancer cells, preventing them from breaking free and grow into tumors.

Longevity Secret

Also discovered is what could be the naked mole rat’s secret to longevity. The rats seem to have a certainly remarkable precision when RNA in ribosomes provides instructions, so-called “translational fidelity” to cellular protein factories. That is, the rats replicate genes with more precision and fewer errors than other mammals.

The precision of the “translational fidelity” is remarkably high, as the scientists observed that it only had ¼ the rate of errors compared to ordinary mice. And with fewer errors, there is less risk of developing numerous age-related diseases.

Also, it would seem that the rat has four RNA molecules, compared to the usual three. And this fourth molecule sole purpose is to edit itself. This observed behavior of this fourth molecule is indeed remarkable.

A fourth molecule is by itself not very unusual in the animal kingdom. There is another rat in South America with four RNA molecules that also happens to live underground, just as the naked mole rat. But that species of rat is not blessed with this unusual longevity.

The team suggests that the precision is probably the main factor contributing to the rat’s longevity and researchers now hope that these findings may lead to drugs that can affect protein production in humans. They will, therefore, continue their research and concentrate on the effects of splitting ribosomal RNA as done in the naked mole rat – to see if this affects longevity directly.

The Naked Mole-Rat’s Secret to Staying Cancer Free
Naked mole-rat has increased translational fidelity compared with the mouse, as well as a unique 28S ribosomal RNA cleavage