Friday, December 30, 2011

The Incredible Naked Mole Rat

The naked mole rat is an awesome little creature despite its ugly look. Underneath the wrinkled skin lies one of the toughest operating systems of the animal kingdom--it's the Superman of the rodent's world.

Size wise, there's not much difference between a naked mole rat and a house mouse. A naked mole rat is typically 3 to 4 inches in length and weighs around 35 grams. A queen, meanwhile, can be as heavy as 80 grams.

A queen. You can actually see the babies in her belly. Image:
This wretched-looking rodent uses its teeth to dig tunnels which can span up to three miles in cumulative length. They live underground in an eusocial system, like that of insects--a queen and several males reproduce, while other rats serve as workers. A naked mole rat has very small eyes which seems to serve no function, and it navigates through the darkness by scent to thrive on tubers as well as its own feces. They can cope with chokingly low level of oxygen and high level of carbon dioxide.
Now the incredible part: the naked mole rat has an incredible lifespan. A rodent of its size lives around 3 to 4 years, but a naked mole rat may live up to 28 years. Putting the figures into perspective, that's like you living for 490 years while your friends lived for a meager 70.

And they are apparently immune to cancer. Professor Rochelle Buffenstein from the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies have been trying for years to infect the penis-like rodent with cancerous cells, toxins, pollutants, and even heavy metals, but the rodents in her lab were unimpressed.
A drug regimen that would be murderous to mouse cells must be doubled or tripled or even multiplied 50 times over before it would have similar effects on a naked mole rat.--Professor Rochelle Buffenstein,

Having bizarre sperm is another trait of the naked mole rat. They are smaller than those of other mammals, and are produced in lower amounts. Most of the sperms have abnormally-shaped head; squashed, shrunken, two heads, conical heads. Just behind the head, there are only seven mitochondria rings--the fuel that powers the sperms' frenzied movement. Human sperms have 15 rings, while some rodents' sperms can have up to 300 rings. So it's not surprising that only between 1 to 15 percent of the sperms can swim, and out of those, only 1 percent that can actually swim quickly.

And the most ironic trait of all: the rat is actually cold-blooded. Well I thought all mammals were warm-blooded. The rats do not possess stable body temperature like other mammals, and so they have to regulate their temperature by basking in chambers close to the surface or retreat to cooler chambers when it gets too hot.

In 2008, scientists found out that these incredibles were missing the body chemical, Substance P, a neurotransmitter released by pain fibers that send signals to the central nervous system in mammals after making contact with things that cause long-lasting, achy pain, like chili peppers. This means that they can endure capsaicin better than any human who has ever lived. Better still, they can't feel pain from the injection of acid. Researchers found out two mutations in their sodium channel (which triggers a chain reaction in neurons that results in the release of neurotransmitters and the sensation of pain in the brain) that renders them pain-free.
This is probably caused by the high level of acidic carbon dioxide in their burrows. Over time, the rats developed resistance against the pain

Despite its ugly look, I hope this bucktoothed creature will continue to reveal more of its incredible trait. It's not very often you see a superhero that feasts on his own feces really.


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