Scientists have sequenced the complete genome of the naked mole rat, a pivotal step to understanding the animal's extraordinarily long life and good health. A colony of more than 2,000 naked mole rats at The University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center at San Antonio contributed to the findings, published online on October 12, 2011 in the journal Nature. "If we understand which genes are different or are expressed differently in naked mole rats — compared to short-lived mice that clearly have poor defenses against aging and cancer — we might find clues as to why the naked mole rat is able to extend both health span and longevity, as well as fight cancer, and this information could be directly relevant and translatable to humans," said Dr. Rochelle Buffenstein, professor of physiology at the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, part of the UT Health Science Center San Antonio. Dr. Buffenstein worked on the study with Dr. Thomas Park, of the University of Chicago; Dr. Vadim Gladyshev, of Harvard Medical School; scientists at the Beijing Genomics Institute; and other collaborators. The mouse-sized naked mole rat is the longest-lived rodent known, surviving up to 31 years in captivity. This is much longer than its laboratory rodent relatives, and the naked mole rat maintains good health and reproductive potential well into its third decade. Naked mole rats live underground in large family groups, like termites and bees, with only a single breeding female. These social rodents are extremely tolerant of life in low oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide. The naked mole rat's capacity to resist cancer and maintain protein integrity in the face of oxidative damage makes it an ideal animal model for aging and biomedical research, Dr. Buffenstein said.
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