New mole rat study explores their immunity to pain

Science News

You know that painful feeling that comes from eating wasabi?

It’s a sensation that all humans experience (and other animals, too). But according to a study that recently made waves in the news, a close cousin to the naked mole rat – the highveld mole rat – feels no pain when eating wasabi. They are entirely unphased by the substance.

The reason you feel pain after eating wasabi is because it contains a chemical compound damaging to protein cells, known as allyl isothiocyanate (or AITC). According to the new research, however, highvelds have no reaction to AITC. Their neurons are riddled with an ion channel called NALCN which is leaky and makes it harder to excite the neurons.

Scientists believe the highvelds evolved this defense to protect themselves from Natal droptail ants. These ants live in burrows with highvelds, and hold a nasty venom that works similarly to AITC.

The pink, buck-toothed naked mole rats who live here at Liberty Science Center aren’t highvelds, but they’re every bit as fascinating! They can live up to 32 years, which is extremely long for an animal of their size. They’re immune to the aging process (even as they grow older, mole rats remain active and youthful until the end of their lives). They can survive more than 18 minutes without oxygen. They almost never get cancer.

Naked mole rats continue to amaze us. What secrets will future research reveal about these animals?

Visit the naked mole rats on your next visit to LSC! Find them on the third floor in our Eat and Be Eaten exhibition, along with 100+ fascinating species.

(h/t: The New York Times)

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