Naked mole-rats ‘become PLANTS’ to survive low oxygen


To some they might seem a bit hard on the eyes, but for all their quirks, naked mole-rats are the ultimate survivors.

They’re known to be remarkably resistant to cancer, and are even impervious to some types of pain – and now, researchers have found that these creatures tap into plant-like behaviours to survive extreme oxygen deprivation.

Naked mole-rats are now the only mammals known to go into a state of ‘suspended animation’ when oxygen is critically low, and metabolize fructose just like plants do to survive conditions that would kill a human in just minutes.

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Naked mole-rats live in crowded underground colonies, often with hundreds of inhabitants, and researchers suspect the unusual metabolism may have developed as a way to survive the oxygen-poor burrows

Naked mole-rats live in crowded underground colonies, often with hundreds of inhabitants, and researchers suspect the unusual metabolism may have developed as a way to survive the oxygen-poor burrows

Naked mole-rats live in crowded underground colonies, often with hundreds of inhabitants, and researchers suspect the unusual metabolism may have developed as a way to survive the oxygen-poor burrows

HOW THEY DO IT 

When oxygen is low, naked mole-rats shut down their cellular ‘breathing’ pathway, the researchers found. 

The mole-rats go into a state of suspended animation, in which they reduce their movement and dramatically slow their pulse and breathing in order to conserve energy.

And, at this time, they begin using their fructose until oxygen becomes available.

Instead of producing energy from oxygen, in what’s known as aerobic respiration, mole-rats switch to fructose-driven glycolysis.

This means they turn fructose into fuel anaerobically, just as plants do.

The mole-rats release large amounts of fructose into their bloodstream, which, in turn, is sent into the brain cells by molecular fructose pumps.

The discovery could pave the way for oxygen deprivation treatments in humans, including for heart attack and stroke sufferers, researchers say.

In an environment where oxygen is extremely low, naked mole-rats can survive for at least five hours, according to the new study led by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

And, when it’s totally depleted, these underground creatures can survive up to 18 minutes.

Mice, on the other hand, die in just 20 seconds when oxygen is at zero percent.

‘This is just the latest remarkable discovery about the naked mole-rat – a cold-blooded mammal that lives longer than other rodents, rarely gets cancer, and doesn’t feel many types of pain,’ says Thomas Park, professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

‘The naked mole-rat has simply rearranged some basic building-blocks of metabolism to make it super-tolerant to low-oxygen conditions.’

The study, which also included researchers from the Max Delbrück Institute in Berlin and the University of Pretoria in South Africa found that naked mole-rats shut down their cellular ‘breathing’ pathway when oxygen is low.

Instead of producing energy from oxygen, in what’s known as aerobic respiration, mole-rats then switch to fructose-driven glycolysis.

This means they turn fructose into fuel anaerobically, just as plants do.

When exposed to low oxygen conditions in the lab, the mole-rats were found to release large amounts of fructose into their bloodstream.

This, in turn, was sent into the brain cells by molecular fructose pumps.

THE NAKED MOLE-RAT

With wrinkly skin and walrus like teeth, naked mole rats are never going to win any beauty contests.

Yet these creatures, which live underground in the deserts of east Africa, are one the medical marvels of the natural world.

If a human was to have the same lifespan as a naked mole rat, relative to its size, they would live for up to 600 years.

As well as being resistant to cancer, they have very low respiratory and metabolic rates, meaning they use oxygen sparingly.

Scientists have put considerable effort into sequencing the creatures’ genome in an attempt to understand its secrets.

The machinery that translates their DNA into the functioning molecules in the cells, proteins, have also been found to be highly accurate.

This means their proteins contain few errors compared to other mammals, and meaning their is less chance of something malfunctioning. 

In all other mammals, these mechanisms are only found on the intestinal cells, according to the researchers.

At levels low enough to kill a human in minutes, mole-rats would survive for at least five hours, Park said.

Under these conditions, naked mole-rats go into a state of suspended animation – and, they’re the only mammals known to use this tactic to survive oxygen deprivation.

In suspended animation, the mole-rats reduce their movement and dramatically slow their pulse and breathing in order to conserve energy.

Naked mole-rats are now the only mammals known to go into a state of ‘suspended animation’ when oxygen is critically low, and metabolize fructose just like plants do to survive conditions that would kill a human in just minutes

Naked mole-rats are now the only mammals known to go into a state of ‘suspended animation’ when oxygen is critically low, and metabolize fructose just like plants do to survive conditions that would kill a human in just minutes

Naked mole-rats are now the only mammals known to go into a state of ‘suspended animation’ when oxygen is critically low, and metabolize fructose just like plants do to survive conditions that would kill a human in just minutes

And, at this time, they begin using their fructose until oxygen becomes available.

Along with this, the researchers also found that naked mole-rats are resistant to a condition known as pulmonary edema, which is tied to low oxygen.

Often seen in high-altitude climbers, pulmonary edema is a dangerous build-up of fluid in the lungs.

These creatures live in crowded underground colonies, often with hundreds of inhabitants, and researchers suspect the unusual metabolism may have developed as a way to survive the oxygen-poor burrows.



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