Naked mole rats are scary-looking. First, they’re rats. Second, they’re rats without hair. Third, they’re all ugly. I mean, just look at this thing:
Beyond those superficial traits though, naked mole rats have something all of us humans envy: healthy lives from birth to death. This animal has a set of physical traits that make it invincible in its underground environment. It has a lack of pain sensation on its skin, it has very low metabolic and respiratory rates, it has a long life for a rodent of its size (about 28 years) and it is highly resistant to cancer. With all that healthiness, those mole rats probably think they’re better than us.
Well not for long. (I hope.)
Biologists at the University of Rochester have found a major reason why the animal probably lives so long and well: better-constructed proteins. Proteins are involved in almost every function of an animal cell. But for protein to work best, it has to fold into the appropriate shape so it can connect to and interact with other structures. The biologists were able to determine the process in naked mole rats that lead to virtually perfect proteins.
This study was done by Vera Grobunova and Andrei Seluanovwas and their paper was published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work began by happenstance. Grobunova and Seluanov were working with rRNA, and after applying a dye to a sample, they studied it under ultraviolet light and found three dark bands rather than the two bands that are common among other animals. Because rRNA plays an essential role in creating proteins, this extra band may be what improves the quality of naked mole rat proteins.
Proteins are created when amino acids are put togethers. But sometimes, mistakes are introduced when the wrong amino acid is inserted. This kind of mistake happens 40 times less in Naked Mole Rats than it does in mouse cells.
Even though this is just basic research now, it could lead to more studies on better protein synthesis.