Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

This naked little Benjamin Button rat is gonna save us all

A naked mole rat.
A naked mole rat.
Photo: Ina Fassbender (Getty Images)

Naked mole rats might actually be the best, most perfect mammal to ever grace the animal kingdom with their presence. This is not hyperbole, but one of many takeaways from a wild new story about naked mole rats published by Wired. In it, we meet the world’s oldest naked mole rat: Joe. He’s 39 years young, looks like baby-old man Ben Button, and has literally never aged a day, not once in his damn life. According to various experts interviewed for the feature, the naked mole rat’s biology may very well hold the key to slowing down the aging process in humans and protecting us against cancers and other damaging diseases. The naked mole rat, of all things! HUH!

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Turns out Joe and his friends have become quite popular in the biological research community thanks to an age-defying mechanism we don’t yet fully understand—because these wrinkly little guys don’t age the same way most mammals do and they rarely die from biological disease or disorders. After performing necropsies on 3,000 naked mole rats, biologist Rochelle Buffenstein only found five instances of cancer. Research has shown that the cells of naked mole rats possess large amounts of a protein called p53, which suppresses tumors. Humans and mice also have this protein, but naked mole rats produce 10 times the amount.

As animals get older, the risk of death increases exponentially. Per Wired, “A lab mouse’s risk of dying doubles every three months or so. For a dog it’s about every three years. Once a human turns 25, their risk of dying doubles every eight years. Naked mole rats don’t play by these rules.” The bad boys of the rodent world are apparently the pasty indoor kids who never go out in the sunlight.

In addition to these potentially life-changing genetic findings, here are some other key takeaways about the naked mole rat, the unexpected icon of the animal kingdom:

  • Mole rats are unfortunately very xenophobic and aggressively attack/kill outsider mole rats. Problematic faves, for sure.
  • They are eusocial, which means one queen rules over a whole colony: “She mates with up to three males and remains fertile even 30 years after puberty. (For a human that would equate to having babies at 300 years old.)”
  • Female mole rats are “reproductively repressed” by the queen with “pushing and shoving that may sometimes look aggressive, depending on the despot.”
  • “Joe has seen dynasties rise and fall”—this is just truly an incredible sentence about a naked mole rat.
  • Naked mole rats have few natural predators because they rarely go above ground.
  • The Secret Of NIMH was a goddamn lie and should’ve been about mole rats entirely.
  • We must do everything in our power to keep Gwyneth Paltrow away from the naked mole rats.