What do you think of when you see a naked mole rat? Do you think it is hideous because it has no fur? Do you think you would want to pet it? Whatever you think about this animal, you would never expect that it could improve human health. Who knew they could be the key to increase the human life span? Yep, that’s right! Naked mole rats, as ugly as they may be, are now considered extremely helpful and important in designing treatments for fatal diseases.
A recent study discovered that the newly deciphered genome of the naked mole rat could help researchers learn more about evolution and even help design better treatments for diseases like cancer and stroke. Scientists believe that this genome will help decipher the naked mole rat’s unique traits, behaviors and social characteristics.
Scientists who deciphered the naked mole rat’s genome used shotgun sequencing to read it. The naked mole rat was raised in a lab and once it was an adult, the scientists studied its genome. They read long sequences of the nucleobases that make up the rat’s DNA and then lined them up to find where they overlapped. Once they read the complete genome, the researchers compared it to the genomes of humans and mice.
The researchers found multiple mutations in the naked mole rat’s genes that correlate to its characteristics. They found that the rat had turned off several genes related to vision because they live in the dark. They also saw a mutation in the gene that functions in hairlessness, which explains why these rats are bald. Naked mole rats live in low-oxygen burrows and stroke and heart attack deprive parts of the body from oxygen. By comparing the genome of the naked mole rat to the human genome and discovering how they survive in this type of low-oxygen environment, scientists can design more effective treatments to improve diseases that deprive the body of oxygen. The researchers sequenced the whole genome and will make it available free online, so groups that study genes involved in cancer and longevity can compare those genes to the mole rat’s genome. You can even look it up online and determine for yourself which genes you think are similar to ours!
This new information about the naked mole rat’s genome can be extremely helpful for treatments that could increase the human life span and improve human health. Who knows, maybe the deciphering of the genome could even lead to find the fountain of youth! What do you think? Do you think the rat’s genome is similar enough to ours that scientists can design more effective medication for diseases? How far do you think these researchers are able to go? If you are unsure, just be sure of one thing, the next time you see a naked mole rat, be sure you look at it with a different perspective because in twenty years that very rat’s genome may lead to the cure for cancer!