Naked mole-rats can survive near-suffocation

21 Avril, 2017, 18:30 | Author: Cyril Hebras
  • Naked mole rats can survive 18 minutes without oxygen. Here's how they do it

They don't get tumors, they're immune to chronic pain and the irritating components of chili peppers. But still, these little subterraneans get a bad rap for not looking like puppies or kittens, which is a shame, because in some ways, naked mole rats are biologically wired better than humans. Oh, and although they are mammals - you know, warm-blooded - they are actually cold-blooded.

In fact, naked mole rats can survive for five hours at oxygen levels so low a human would die in minutes, and this latest study showed they can endure a ridiculous 18 minutes of total oxygen deprivation by slipping into a sort of vegetative state.

While glucose is the most commonly used energy source in mammals, the study found that naked mole-rats can also survive for limited periods on fructose, a related sugar that can be burned anaerobically. And it can kill a mouse in less than 15 minutes.

Surprisingly, the naked mole rat's heart performed just as well with fructose as with glucose, suggesting it is just as skilled with one type of metabolism as it is with the other.

The research was supported by National Science Foundation (grant #0744979), the European Research Council (grant 294678), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft SFB 665, and the National Institutes of Health (grants HL71626 and HL60678).

Naked mole rats, which lack fur and live in complex underground burrows, were already known to live decades longer than other rodents, resist getting cancer, and be impervious to many types of pain. But the process of taking that sugar and turning it into energy requires oxygen. "It's not as effective as the glucose pathway, but the trick is, it works without oxygen".

For naked mole rats digging miles-long burrows, temporarily switching to anaerobic respiration can be lifesaving. But even after 18 minutes of no oxygen, they recovered when they were put back in normal air.

Next, the researchers made a decision to see how the mole-rats dealt with zero percent oxygen. "We still don't know where the fructose comes from", Reznick said. "They were still walking around, having a good old time".

Naked mole rats are wrinkly, hairless, poop-eating, delightful creatures that live in large colonies of up to 280 animals. A particularly powerful adaptation is their ability to turn on this fructose pathway that Park and his team have illuminated. And they have lungs, but they can live in underground tunnels with very little oxygen. They tuned the spectrometer to search for hundreds of different metabolites.

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Coming to give you a kiss.

The brain cells of most mammals, including humans, quickly die when deprived of oxygen, which is why heart attack and stroke can lead to serious brain damage.

Metabolizing fructose is a plant strategy, and the researchers were surprised to see it in a mammal. Under the same conditions, the hearts and brains of mice failed.

For most creatures, these conditions would be unlivable.

But they will start stirring again as if nothing ever happened, within seconds upon exposure to air.

But new research has revealed that they're even more weird than scientists could have ever imagined.

The totally freaky naked mole rat just got weirder. They rarely come above ground, living their lives in complete darkness. In addition to living without oxygen, working and living together harmoniously is something humans can stand to improve.

"Boy, that was a big pile of data across the desk", Park said.


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