Researchers explain how naked mole rats survive 18 minutes with no oxygen

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Monday April 24, 2017

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In plain sight mole rats may not be the most attractive creatures to look at. But they’re bare interesting for researchers to study.

They’re the only cold-blooded mammal, expounds Thomas Park — a professor in the department of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He utters naked mole rat colonies also have a “queen,” similar to ants or bees.

Now, a new investigation by Park and a team of researchers describes how naked mole rats can nave without any oxygen for nearly 20 minutes. The research was published this month in the magazine Science. Here’s part of Park’s interview with As it Happens master Carol Off about his study.

CAROL OFF: Professor Park, when did you outset suspect that naked mole rats could survive without oxygen for altogether long periods of time?

THOMAS PARK: We started to suspect different years ago. There were some really good clues that they influence be super tolerant to oxygen deprivation. The first is that it’s known that their excavations have the lowest amount of oxygen of any subterranean mammal. That’s because they active in such large numbers. Their colony size can be two to three hundred people.

The second clue [is that] it has been known for some time that the hemoglobin in their blood is very viscous for oxygen. So even in a very low oxygen environment, their blood can shreds oxygen molecules out of the air.

Naked Mole Rat

In this photo released by the Wildlife Conservation System, a juvenile naked mole rat is caught by a rare burst of light at the Bronx Zoo’s “Midwife precisely of Darkness” exhibit in New York, Thursday, Feb 7, 2008. Naked mole rats explosive in dark underground tunnel systems and are native to the tropical grasslands of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. (Julie Larsen Maher/WCS/Associated Throw ones arms about)

CO: How did you test your theory?

TP: We began by kind of arbitrarily just electing a low oxygen concentration to try. We picked five per cent because we knew that sensitives and laboratory mice cannot survive in five percent. That was a mere tense experiment. We were ready to pull the guy out if he looked like he was force trouble. And we were amazed because after an hour there was no representation of trouble. After five hours, the researchers started to get pretty unimaginative, but the mole rat looked fine. So, we were surprised and we decided to just say five hours is the limit that we’re usual to go today.

CO: And then you went further. You put them in a zero per cent oxygen situation.

“Under zero per cent oxygen, they rapidly slow their basics rate and respiration rate, they stop moving around, and they go into a express of suspended animation.” – Thomas Park

TP: That’s right. We wanted to Non-Standard real push the envelope and see what they are capable of. I think in nature they order sometimes get close to zero per cent oxygen. But, I think, we were de facto pushing the envelope.

We were shocked to see what happened. Under zero per cent oxygen, they at the speed of light slow their heart rate and respiration rate, they quit moving around, and they go into a state of suspended animation. And at the selfsame time, they release a large amount of fructose — the simple sugar fructose — into their blood. Fructose is carried to the brains cells … We then discovered that the brain cells are covered with fructose transporters to bestir oneself the fructose inside the cells. And inside the cells, they’ve got a huge amount of the enzyme that can transform fructose directly into energy. The significance is that this pathway, that we’re business the fructose pathway, can operate without oxygen —  whereas what we normally use is glucose, the other forthright sugar, and it requires oxygen. So, that was a pretty cool discovery.

CO: Okay, so if I show compassion for, other mammals — like us — we use glucose in our metabolic system. And we need oxygen to throw the glucose. [With] fructose, you don’t need oxygen to burn.

TP: Correct. And, so, because we’re in an oxygen sumptuous environment, it’s a better choice for us to choose glucose because glucose is really more efficient than fructose. But for the naked mole rat, in an oxygen poor as a church-mouse environment, they’ve decided to go strong with the fructose pathway.  

Naked mole rat

(Thomas Reservation)

CO: Tell us a bit more about naked mole rats. They’re catchy wonderful and strange creatures.

TP: You know, I really like them. I over that they’re evolved to be very friendly and nice because they beget to live in such large numbers and such close quarters. You can pick up a demented naked mole rat, no problem. They’re very friendly. If you pick up a wilderness mouse or a wild laboratory rat, they’d probably bite you.

CO: What relating to how they organize themselves?

TP: They organize themselves much predilection an ant colony or a bee colony. There’s only one breeding female. We call her the empress. She is in charge of all of the other hundreds of non-breeding animals. So, she goes around regular — goes through the colony — and makes sure that each colony fellow knows that she’s in charge.  

CO: You love these animals and they’re have under a spelling. But, you’re hoping that this might lead you to some discoveries — something that can pinch humans, I guess.  What do you hope comes out of this research?

TP: So, what I’m counting is that somebody smarter than me, perhaps with a background in neuro-engineering or bio-engineering, inclination tackle the problem of how do we upregulate the fructose pathway in humans … 99.99 per cent of the control, we’re fine, we have plenty of air.  But when there’s a tragedy like a sensibility attack, and we can’t get oxygen to the brain, it would be great if give a drug or a treatment that drive upregulate the fructose pathway and allow the patient to survive longer.

This examine has been edited for length and clarity. To hear more of our conversation with Thomas Greensward, listen to the full interview above. 

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