Compared to the average three-year life span of a common rat, the 10 to 30-year life of the naked mole rat, an underground rodent native to East Africa, is amazing. Now, researchers from Israel and the US are working to uncover the secret to the small mammal’s long – and active – lifespan, which could have implications for human longevity.
Because rodents have an 85 percent genetic similarity to humans, it may hold the key to a longer and healthier life for us as well. Besides, this rodent seems impervious to aging, maintaining high activity, bone health, reproductive capacity and cognitive ability throughout its lifetime, the journal Aging Cell reports.
Dorothee Huchon, zoologist at Tel Aviv University, Rochelle Buffenstein, professor at the University of Texas – San Antonio, and Yael Edrey of the City College of New York are trying to determine whether the rat’s unusually high levels of NRG-1, a neuroprotecting protein, is behind its extraordinary longevity.
Of all the species the researchers studied, the naked mole rat had the most plentiful and long-lasting supply of the protein NRG-1, maintaining a consistent level throughout its lifetime. It is concentrated in the cerebellum, the part of the brain important to motor control. Huchon, evolutionary biologist, joined the project to lend her expertise on rodent genetics. She studied seven species of rodents, including guinea pigs, mice, and mole rats, to determine the genetic relationships between them. Her analysis revealed that the correlation between life span and NRG-1 levels was independent of evolutionary lineage – meaning that it was unique to the naked mole rat, not a common trait of these rodent species.