Researcher Gary R. Lewin holding a naked mole-rat. (Picture: PA)
You might remember them from Kim Possible or just because they’re so weird.
But naked mole rats don’t often get the credit they deserve.
The bizarre animal is so clever it can survive oxygen starvation by behaving like a plant.
The mammal, which has no fur and lives deep underground, outlive other rats, don’t get cancer and are indifferent to many types of pain.
It’s fair to say they’re weird (Picture: PA)
Can it get stranger? Yes, the naked mole rat can crank it up a notch in the weirdness stakes.
The only animal which mimics an ant or termites social behaviours is also virtually cold-blooded.
The mammal has a female ‘Queen’ who gives birth to young, a small number of breeding males, and numerous sterile workers.
Their lips close behind their teeth so that they can dig with their teeth without getting dirt in their mouths.
You might be wondering what on earth this has to do with you…
You wouldn’t necessarily call them cuddly (Picture: PA)
Apart from the fact that this furthers human knowledge of an understudied mammal, it could also lead to new treatments for heart attacks and strokes.
Naked mole rats are from Africa and scientists now know why they can survive for hours in low oxygen conditions that would kill a human in minutes.
Top researchers have found that they burn sugar, or fructose, to generate energy without oxygen. They do it through a metabolic pathway like plants.
‘The naked mole rat has simply rearranged some basic building-blocks of metabolism to make it super-tolerant to low oxygen conditions,’ Professor Thomas Park, from the University of Illinois in Chicago, US, said.
They might hold the key to beating cancer (Picture: PA)
When they were tested in labs the rodents were deprived of oxygen and went into a state of suspended animation but survived for up to 18 minutes with no long term impacts.
Other rodents, like mice, died in just 20 seconds.
At oxygen levels low enough to kill humans, the mole rats kept going for at least five hours.
Scientists now think that the crowded burrows where they live have made sure the rats can survive with low oxygen.