October 12, 2011
Naked Mole Rat Genome Sequenced
A team of Korean, Chinese, and American researchers have sequenced the complete genome of the naked mole rat -- an achievement that could be a pivotal step to understanding the animal's extraordinarily long life and good health, according to a Wednesday University of Texas press release announcing the research.
According to the researchers, the naked mole rat, which is approximately the size of a mouse, has wrinkled skin and buck teeth, and can survive more than three decades in captivity, making it one of the longest-living rodents on the planet. Furthermore, even in their 20s, naked mole rats are typically in good health and remain capable of reproducing.
"If we understand which genes are different or are expressed differently in naked mole rats -- compared to short-lived mice that clearly have poor defenses against aging and cancer -- we might find clues as to why the naked mole rat is able to extend both health span and longevity, as well as fight cancer, and this information could be directly relevant and translatable to humans," Dr. Rochelle Buffenstein, a physiology professor at the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, a member of the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, said in a statement.
"Deciphering the animal's genetic blueprint is an important step to unlocking the keys to the naked mole rat's extraordinary longevity," she added. "This study reveals many of the genetic secrets to their extraordinary longevity, cancer resistance and pain tolerance, and their ability to survive in a low-oxygen environment. Indeed, having this animal's genetic blueprint is a treasure trove for many areas of biology and medicine because the genome will now be available to scientists everywhere to explore in their favored research area."
In a separate press release announcing the findings, which have been published in the journal Nature, the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) said that the study would "provide an excellent opportunity to better understand the unique traits of naked mole rats and advance its use in biological and biomedical studies," due to the rodent's resistance to cancer, ability to live in dark, low-oxygen/high-carbon dioxide conditions, and ability to resist some types of pain.
According to the BGI, the researchers used a sequencing study known as whole-genome shotgun (WGS) strategy, and were able to produce a 2.6 GB genome featuring more than 22,500 genes. In doing so, the scientists demonstrated that the ancestors of the naked mole rat were separated from the predecessors of other mice and rats approximately 73 million years ago.
They were able to specifically identify genes "related to anti-aging and adaptation to a low oxygen environment," as well as "several" other genes that are "related to the exceptional traits" of the naked mole rat, including those that regulate tumor suppression, the BGI added.
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