With their pinkish, translucent and wrinkly skin, double-saber buck teeth and black-bead eyes, naked mole rats look like characters in a nightmare from hell. In fact, they do live underground in pitch-dark burrows where their air, from a human point of view, can contain chokingly little oxygen, toxic carbon dioxide levels and a perpetual stench of ammonia. What's more, even though they are mammals, these sausage-size rodents live more like ants and bees, with a queen, a few mating males and lots of workers.
But one other thing: They apparently never ever get cancer, which has made naked mole rats particularly beautiful to scientists.
In the past few years, researchers have been teasing out the biological bases for this cancer resistance, which they say may help explain how naked mole rats manage to live almost 10 times longer than their house mouse and street rat cousins. When Old Man, the oldest known naked mole rat on the planet, died at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio in November, he was 32 years old.
"These animals beat the odds and defy the aging process," says Rochelle Buffenstein, a physiologist at the center who had her scientific eye on Old Man since 1980, when she and colleagues captured him in a Kenyan sweet potato field. Now she maintains colonies with about 2,000 naked mole rats in her lab.
"A key finding of our work is that every physiological and biochemical system within the naked mole rat shows extended maintenance, leading to good health." Only in Old Man's final few years did he begin to appear sort of old. For most of his senior citizenhood, Buffenstein and her colleagues observed, his bones, muscles, heart and libido seemed like those of a teenager.
I'll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.: LBJ's Ghost