A groundbreaking new discovery about the naked mole rat could totally change how we understand these bizarre creatures.
Scientists have just stumbled upon a remarkable new discovery about an already bizarre animal, the naked mole rat. Researchers have found that the African naked mole-rat, a hairless, cold-blooded mammal that lives in the ground, can survive without oxygen.
The study, published in the journal Science, shows that the naked mole rat’s body is very different from that of a typical mammal. Like reptiles, they generate their own heat by moving to warmer or cooler tunnels, lowering the amount of energy they need to survive. And they are capable of drawing oxygen out of even the thinnest air.
So researchers decided to take a closer look to see how they handled such low amounts of oxygen, and how far they could go. They were surprised to find that mole rats were able to fare well in a chamber with just 5 percent oxygen, which would kill a mouse in less than 15 minutes. Then, they tried it with zero percent oxygen, which would kill a mouse in 45 seconds. Four mole rats passed out in 30 seconds, but they stayed alive for a full 18 minutes and woke up when re-exposed to normal air, although three mole rats that were exposed for 30 minutes died.
“When oxygen runs low in their underground burrows, naked mole rats have a unique method of survival,” the statement from the Max Delbruck Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association reads. “Their metabolism switches from a glucose-based system, which depends on oxygen, to one that makes use of fructose. For a while this suffices to protect sensitive organs such as the heart and brain. Scientists of the Max Delbrück Center of Molecular Medicine now explain this unique survival strategy in the current issue of the journal Science.
“As most naked mole-rats scurry off to work, some continue to lie on their backs for a while in the sleeping chamber. It’s not laziness that keeps these animals from fulfilling their duties in the eusocial community structure of the mole-rats – it’s ventilation. 100 naked mole-rats may sleep together in a mound, and last night they were stuck in the middle.”