Naked mole rats are notable for their hideous appearance, but behind that façade is an animal with some amazingly unique evolutionary traits. Among them is the fact that naked mole rats have a natural resistance to cancer. Even after studying them for decades, scientists have rarely encountered a specimen that had grown a tumor. This physical phenomenon baffled researchers until they dug deeper. They discovered how a complex sugar called “hyaluronan” protects the naked mole rat’s cells from developing cancerous tumors. All animals naturally produce hyaluronan but compared to mice, rats and humans, the naked mole rat’s supply of the sugar has molecules that are five times larger. On top of that, the enzyme that breaks down the specific sugar only plays a small role in the naked mole rat’s system, leaving behind large concentrations of hyaluronan. When the sugar was removed from the naked mole rats, they did develop tumors. Whatever the evolutionary reason is for their unique adaptation, these animals might hold the key to a cancer-free future for humans.
1. What is so special about the naked mole rat?
2. What kind of animal produces the hyaluronan?
3. If the hyaluronan is removed from the naked mole rat, what might happen?
4. Have you seen a naked mole rat? Do you also find the creature hideous? Why or why not?
"Beauty is only skin deep."
Do you agree?
Why do you think so?