Naked Mole Rat Genome May Hold Key to Longevity

The newly deciphered genome of the naked mole rat, known for its longevity and resistance to cancer, may help researchers improve human health, according to a new study.

"They are very odd, they are really freaky and they have a lot of really interesting specializations," study researcher and naked mole rat enthusiast Thomas Park, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, told LiveScience. "We are working to understand how they come to have these very interesting characteristics. Having the genome gives us a whole new armory of ways in which we can approach this."

Using clues from the genome, such as unique life traits, behaviors, and social characteristics, scientists can learn more about evolution and could even help design better treatments for human disease, such as stroke and cancer, or even possibly find the fountain of youth, according to LiveScience.

To read the genome, the team of international researchers used a method called shotgun sequencing. They read long strings of chemical bases that the DNA is made of. The researchers then lined them up to find the where they overlapped, creating longer strings until they covered the full genome.

After getting a complete genome, the researchers compared it with the genomes of humans and mice. They looked for any significantly different genes. Changes in those genes could tell us why some mammals live longer or are resistant to certain diseases.

Vera Gorbunova, a researcher from the University of Rochester in New York who wasn't involved in the study, told LiveScience in an email, "Having the genome sequence is a starting point. Now with this tool in hand, a lot more analysis needs to be done to understand the naked mole rat longevity and cancer resistance. These unique mechanisms could be applied for cancer prevention and life-span extension in humans." According to the researchers, the naked mole rat, who lives in the dark, had turned off several genes related to vision. The researchers also saw a mutation in the “hairless” gene previously seen to cause baldness in mice and humans. Additionally, mole rats survive in low-oxygen burrows. That information could help scientists design treatments to improve outcomes of stroke and heart attack victims, whose conditions deprive parts of the body of oxygen. "A lot of people will use the information way beyond those who are mole rat fanatics like me; looking at these extreme animals can tell you a lot about more usual species," Chris Faulkes, a naked mole rat researcher at the Queen Mary University of London, told LiveScience. "You can apply it to a much broader sphere of things." "It is very basic science," Park told LiveScience. "But it can be a very useful tool as it gets into the hands of scientists worldwide." According to LiveScience, the researchers plan to offer the genome available online for free. This study was published online Wednesday in the journal Nature
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