This is the ‘naked mole rat’, a species which can live for 30 years – approximately ten times longer than any other species of rat. Their bodies never degenerate, they can reproduce until death, and they keep their looks (relatively speaking) and brain-power to the end. And scientists from Oxford University’s Wellcome Trust Centre believe that the genes of the mole rat could one day allow humans to achieve that much-lusted-after extra-long life.
‘We could theoretically go on for 200 years if we understood the biology pathways and could alter them in some way.’
The rats have some particular quirks that make them fascinating to scientists. Not only are they the only cold-blooded mammal, but they can resist cancer, they can eat poisonous plants, and cope with extreme heat. On the downside, their eyesight is terrible and they spend most of their lives underground. Last year researchers at the University of Liverpool mapped the mole rat’s genome structure for the first time, in the hope of understanding what keeps them so healthy. Lead scientist Dr Joao Magalhaes said: ‘The level of resistance these animals have to disease, particularly cancer, might give us clues as to why some creatures are more prone to disease than others.
‘We want to establish the naked mole rat as the first model of resistance to chronic diseases of ageing.’