Is the Key to Immortality Hiding in Naked Mole-Rats?

Tuesday, 30 January 2018 - 11:09AM
Weird Science
Tuesday, 30 January 2018 - 11:09AM
Is the Key to Immortality Hiding in Naked Mole-Rats?
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Image credit: YouTube

There has already been a bunch of stories about how naked mole rats are almost immune to cancer (despite those two zoo specimens that did get cancer), but even more exciting is their apparent ability to live indefinitely. That's right—along with lobsters, jellyfish, and tardigrades, naked mole rats may be the next animal to add to the pantheon of immortals ahead of humans. The question, of course, is how the hell a pink subterranean rat pulls off living forever.

That's the mystery at the heart of Calico's research. Calico is one of Google's Alphabet companies, and their goal is to "harness advanced technologies to increase our understanding of the biology that controls lifespan."

Though one of the lead researchers associated with Calico, Rochelle Buffenstain, has published research outlining mole rats' long lives before, the most recent study, published in eLife, includes data from a very large test group of the rodents, providing one of the best looks yet at their longevity.

The results of the study are almost surreal when it comes to the implications. According to Gizmodo, who interviewed Buffenstein about the study:

"Over the 30-year-span they looked at, only around 400 mole-rats actually died of natural causes...They also seem to only very rarely develop other age-related diseases, like cancer...All of which suggests to Buffenstein and her team that naked mole-rats could theoretically live as long as they're lucky enough to avoid disease and injury. They also admit that there could be an upper limit where age starts mattering to mole-rats, but if there is, we haven't seen the number yet."

One quote in particular from Buffenstein sums up the situation nicely: "This is the first mammal in which there is a lack of intrinsic mortality with increasing age."

It's still unclear why mole rats possess this apparent immunity to aging, but once scientists at Calico (or other research institutions) are able to complete the full picture of their biology, we may be able to start talking about immortal, cancer-free humans. Or, you know, genetic abominations that merge mole rat DNA with human genetics. If that's the case, we know just who to call to fight an army of immortal mole-people: Elon Musk, armed with his new line of personal flamethrowers.

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