The "Naked" Truth: Critters Key to Aging and Cancer?



FLORIDA - BACKGROUND:  Dr. Rochelle Buffenstein of the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies is a native of Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) who was educated largely in South Africa. She trapped many of the naked mole rats she studies herself and then brought the whole colony along when she moved to the United States.


Naked mole rats are the source of great interest in an area of study called “comparative gerontology” or “comparative biology of aging.” In short: Usually, you can make a reasonably accurate prediction of how long a mammal will live based on its size. The larger the mammal, the longer it lives. But there are outliers, and naked mole rats are a notable exception. They’re about the same size as mice, which live up to 4 years. Naked mole rats live 30 years or more, and maintain surprisingly good health throughout.

(Source: University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio)


THE RESEARCH:  Comparative biology of aging highlights those unusual species that are not only able to live considerably longer than expected on the basis of their body size but also maintain good health until very late in life. A key focus of the research undertaken in the Buffenstein lab addresses the cellular and molecular mechanisms that the longest-lived rodent, the naked mole-rat uses to thwart the aging process and maintain cancer-free good health well into their third decade of life. In particular, researchers currently are using a genomic and metabolomics approach to address the underlying mechanisms that facilitate the maintenance of protein stability and genomic integrity in rodents of disparate longevity.

(Source: University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio)




1) Despite their names, naked mole rats are neither moles nor rats (nor are they totally hairless). They are more closely related to porcupines and guinea pigs.


2) Naked mole rats live in the horn of Africa and are native to Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.


3) Soldier mole rats defend the colony from both predators—mostly snake—and foreign mole rats, which they identify as foreign by their odor.


4) The queen isn’t born a queen. She’s a female who has fought her way to the top.


5) A colony of naked mole rats can consist of 20 to 300 individuals. Their underground territory can be as large as six football fields.