Sunday, 23 April 2017

Naked mole-rats just keep getting weirder and weirder


April 21, 2017


by John Hopton


Naked mole-rats are probably the weirdest and most wonderful animals in the world - and now it has been discovered they often behave more like plants than animals.

Why are naked mole-rats weird and wonderful? Take the name, for starters. All animals are naked (usually), but these actually look more naked than most. The next part of their name is two animals in one. But the way they look is far from being the most remarkable thing about them. They live like termites, in colonies of 300 where a queen produces worker offspring. They don't get cancer and they are immune to a lot of pain, including that caused by chilli peppers.

Whereas mice live for a maximum of three years, the world's oldest mole-rat, "Old Man", died aged 32.
Surviving in zero oxygen

One other incredible thing about naked mole-rats is that they can survive for up to 18 minutes without oxygen; this is compared to the 20 seconds of a mouse.

A new report in the journal Science explains that when mole-rats have to go without oxygen, they use fructose as their energy source. That's the sugar used by plants, in contrast to glucose which is used by humans and almost all other mammals.

Together with colleagues, Thomas Park, a University of Illinois at Chicago neurobiologist and co-author of the new study, put a mole rat into an oxygen chamber containing only five percent oxygen, and admitted the team were "tense". Humans could not survive on 5 percent.

However, “They didn’t even go to sleep,” Park told The Washington Post.

Down at zero percent oxygen, the animals' heart rate fell from 200 beats per minute to about 50, to account for their situation, but they made a quick recovery once oxygen was reintroduced.

“They were able to survive up to 18 minutes without any apparent neurological damage,” said Jane Reznick, a study co-author and molecular biologist at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin.
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