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Naked Mole: Rodent Always Young

The first Russian colony of naked mole rats, which has recently completed a month’s quarantine in the new laboratory, was brought to Moscow State University. Plastic “little rooms”, tunnels, and the absence of light replicates a familiar environment for rodents in nature. While unusual animals are settling down in their new house, the scientists are prepare to begin the study of the phenomenon of the “forever young” mole rats, the head of the research, Vladimir Skulachev, told reporters why these tiny creatures are interesting and how they helped prove that human aging is a program, which can be cancelled.

Naked_Mole Naked Mole

The naked mole rat is a little creature, little more than a mouse (30-50 g) and the world’s only hairless rodent. But if the mouse, of the corresponding size, lives about two years, this small mammal lives more than 30 years.

Mole rats are interesting because of the fact that it lost features of aging and many other signs of late development of the individual.

Earlier Russian zoologists called tis ageless animal “naked digger”. “But when I took up the animals, I was all the time annoyed that there is no word “digger” in Russian, - Skulachev says. - And I had renamed it the “mole rat”. More sonorous and clear title is instantly caught on, and now it is the only way the rodent is called.

Vladimir_Skulachev
Vladimir Skulachev

The naked mole rat was discovered in 1842 in Africa and at first did not attract special attention: just another species of rodent. Until the time, when the German zoologist August Weismann in 1881 read one of his lectures and excited the whole reading world. Due to the fact that there was one phrase that he was not going to justify, but simply threw at the mercy of opponents: “I consider death not as a primary necessity, but as something acquired secondarily, in the process of adaptation”.

“August Weismann had in mind not just the death, when you, God forbid, a huge rock fell, - says head of research. - He talked about the death of old age. Weisman argued that aging was specifically invented for his own biological evolution accelerating, and when something biological beings do not grow old. This was contrary to this Darwinism “school”. “Weismann was attacked by the scientific world, his thought is rarely quoted, and in old age, and all of it denied.

However, in the twentieth century genes cell death were suddenly revealed. “It turned out that every living cell is a terrible melancholy, and to live on, it needs continuous reinforcement from the outside – “Live on, live on.” If not, then the cell activates the program recorded in the gene of the cells, which kills the cell, - Vladimir Skulachev says. - In general, to prove that Weismann was right was only one step.”

If the German zoologist was right, it means that aging can be canceled. For example, to find a drug that will block one of the stages of this process.

“People do not become immortal: still there are accidents, acute illness that can kill. But people can be young forever, and will die young, avoiding the humiliating condition of aging,” - Skulachev said.

To pick up an agent that blocks of human aging program, scientists, primarily interested in the study of long-lived vertebrates. In August, it became clear that the most long-lived of them - Greenland shark (about 400 years). However, the researchers had to find a “compact” beast that however long he lived and which could be placed in the vivarium. It is not difficult to guess the mole rat perfectly meets these criteria.

In nature, naked mole rats live in underground labyrinths, comparable in size to two football fields. In the center “queen” apartments are located - the uterus, which lives in them with from one to three husbands. All the other animals subordinate it, they protect and serve “the royal family.” They are not eligible for breeding.

These eusocial animals, their social organization resembles the structure of ant colonies, bees and termites.

“But there is one fundamental difference. Insects “queen” from the very beginning is larger than the others. For example, bees initially fed a special milk uterus, and in the age of sexual maturity, it becomes three times larger than others, - Skulachev says. – Mole rats have monarchy as well, but it is more democratic (if the monarchy could be so). The fact is that each female rat can become a “queen”. It happens due to the fact that during pregnancy her vertebrae starts to grow, and it repeats every time.”

Throughout its long life, a mole rat doesn’t suffer from “age-related” diseases. They have a powerful immune system, although usually one of the first pass starts with the age item.

Having studied about a thousand corpses of naked mole rats, scientists have not found a single case of cancer. Although in February 2016 they still found six individuals with cancer symptoms. “It was a strange, very slow cancer. As a rule, in rodents it is much faster in developing an acute disease. Nevertheless, we can’t say that the naked mole rat is absolutely resistant to cancer, - Vladimir Skulachev says. - But the fact is that they almost never suffer from cancer”.

The researchers suggested that the rat aging slows down due to the neoteny - the process when a teenage traits are inherent in adult individuals for a long time.

“Then it becomes clear why this animal is naked: all rodents are born naked, and then hair grows. And as the clock slowed down, the mole rat just doesn’t live up to the time when you need to grow hair – Skulachev says. - If this phenomenon is neoteny, then you need to collect all that we know about mole rats, and see if there are similar signs in addition to the lack of hair”.

Vladimir Skulachev made the list, which includes 43 features. For example, compared to other rodents, mole rat has small body size, the later puberty and the outer ear and scrotum absent (in mice it appears somewhere on the 20th day). The lungs of the mole rat, in general, remain unfinished for the whole life.

Naked_Mole Naked Mole

Over the years, scientists from Moscow State University under the direction of academician Skulachev will study the behavior of newly arrived colony consisting of 25 mole rats. By the way, everyone can watch small animals - with the help of the webcams in the lab.

After that biologists will begin a more detailed phase of the study, for which they need samples of the naked mole rats tissues. In particular, scientists are going to study the properties of mitochondria in a special way, in order to understand the reason for animals’ high resistance to cancer.

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