No offense to them, but naked mole-rats are utter freaks of nature. Aside from looking like a wrinkled sausage with buck teeth, these creatures don’t feel pain, they appear to have unique cancer-fighting superpowers, and they can survive without oxygen by switching to a plant-like metabolic pathway.
For some time, scientists have also noticed that they seem to age rather strangely. A new study published in the journal eLife has looked into this and discovered these saber-toothed sausages actually defy the normal laws of biological aging.
With most mammals, the rate of death usually follows the Gompertz law of mortality, which simply says that death rate increases with age. For humans, this mathematical equation shows that the probability of dying in a given year doubles every eight years after you reach 30 (try not to dwell on that too much).
The naked mole rat, however, doesn’t play by these rules, as researchers from Calico Life Sciences found out after they gathered information on the life and death of 3,299 naked mole-rats.
To their surprise, the data showed that the risk of a naked mole-rat dying a given day never exceed 1 in 10,000 after they reached sexual maturity. The researchers say that this is totally “unprecedented” for mammals. Their results also showed that a significant portion of the species lives beyond 30 years although the animals rarely grow older than 35.
“We have long known that naked mole-rats are unique mammals in that their 30+ year lifespan goes well beyond what would be expected based on their ‘mouse-like’ size,” Dr Rochelle Buffenstein, Senior Principal Investigator at Calico, said in a statement.
“Research has shown that the chance of dying for mammals such as humans, horses, and mice, among others, increases exponentially with age, according to Gompertz’ law," she added. “Our research demonstrates that naked mole-rats do not age in the same manner as other mammals, and in fact show little to no signs of aging, and their risk of death does not increase even at 25 times past their time to reproductive maturity.
“These findings reinforce our belief that naked mole-rats are exceptional animals to study to further our understanding of the biological mechanisms of longevity.”
The researchers didn’t look for an explanation behind the skill of living a long life, however, previous studies have hinted that it could be something to do with naked mole-rats' DNA-repairing abilities.
Certainly, there seems to be much more to learn about these strange mammals and no doubt what we find will be very, very unusual.