From: Editor, ENN
Published September 30, 2013 03:53 PM

The Naked Mole Rat's Secret to a Long and Healthy Life

Naked mole rats live approximately 30 years, which doesn't seem too big of a feat to humans, but compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, this is an exceptionally long time. What's also impressive is that these mole rats pretty much stay healthy until the end of their lives. Reports even say that this species is cancer-proof. So what's their secret?

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According to new research conducted by biologists at the University of Rochester, better-constructed proteins provide the key to this species' longevity.

Proteins are involved in nearly all functions of an animal cell, and consequently, are essential to all organisms. But before proteins can do their job, they must fold into the appropriate shapes that allow them to connect to and interact with other structures in the cell. In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov describe their discovery of the process in naked mole rats that leads to virtually perfect proteins.

"While this is basic research," said Gorbunova, "we hope our findings encourage further studies on better protein synthesis."

Their work focused on naked mole rat ribosomes—the site of protein creation in the animal's cells. After applying a dye to a sample, researchers found three dark bands—representing concentrations of different rRNA molecules. What is different about this is that all other animals are characterized by two bands. This suggests that there is a "hidden break" in the naked mole rat rRNA.

Since rRNA is an essential part of the protein-creation mechanism, the two biologists decided to see if the broken rRNA affects the quality of naked mole rat proteins.

Gorbunova and Seluanov discovered that the naked mole rat's rRNA scaffold is indeed unique. The rRNA strands split at two specific locations and discard the intervening segment. Instead of floating off on their own, the two remaining pieces from each strand stay close to each other and act as a scaffold on which ribosomal proteins are assembled to create a functional ribosome—a molecular machine that puts amino acids together to create proteins.

Gorbunova and Seluanov found that the proteins made by naked mole rat cells are up to 40 times less likely to contain such mistakes than the proteins made by mouse cells.

"This is important because proteins with no aberrations help the body to function more efficiently," said Seluanov.

Read more at the University of Rochester.

Naked mole rat image via Shutterstock.

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