Naked mole-rats don’t get cancer, don’t feel pain and don’t have warm blood like other mammals. They also don’t need very much oxygen to live, per a new study in the journal Science. (University of Illinois at Chicago)
If you take away a mouse’s oxygen, the mouse is going to die within 20 seconds. If you take away a naked mole-rat’s oxygen, though, it will be fine for up to 18 minutes.
Naked mole-rats are marvelous and bizarre rodents, arguably the world’s weirdest mammals. The East African critters do not get tumors. They’re immune to types of chronic pain and the irritant in chili peppers. They live like social insects, in 300-strong underground colonies where a mole-rat queen gives birth to worker children (the offspring themselves will never bear young). Though the mole-rats are mammals, they do not internally regulate their body temperature — they are coldblooded, so to speak, in the manner of frogs. Mice live a maximum of three years. Old Man, the world’s oldest mole-rat, died at 32.
And naked mole-rats thrive in oxygen-poor air, even at levels that would be lethal to mice or humans. If the naked mole-rats behave like a strange medley of wrinkled rodent, termite and toad, throw vegetable into that mix, too: When oxygen is scarce, as scientists report Thursday in the journal Science, the mole-rats switch their energy source from glucose — what humans and virtually all other mammals use — to fructose. That’s the sugar that plants use.
The air you’re breathing right now is, in all likelihood, just about 21 percent oxygen. The Occupational Health & Safety Administration defines “oxygen-deficient” air as less than 19.5 percent. Humans, unless they go through a careful acclimation process, stop functioning well at around 10 percent. Thrust into a cage with air at 5 percent oxygen, humans would die.
When Thomas Park, an expert on naked mole-rats, placed the first animal in a chamber containing only 5 percent oxygen, the mood, he said, was “tense.” The scientists began their stopwatches and waited for the slightest twitch of distress. The animal, though, seemed unaware that three-fourths of the oxygen in its environment had vanished….