Researchers find yet another reason why naked mole-rats are weird

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

Researchers find yet another reason why naked mole-rats are weird:

For example, instead of generating their own heat, they regulate body temperature by moving to warmer or cooler tunnels, which lowers the amount of energy they need to survive. They’re also known to have what Park calls “sticky hemoglobin,” which allows them to draw oxygen out of very thin air. And because they live underground in large social groups, they’re used to breathing air that’s low in oxygen and high in carbon dioxide.


To start out, he and his colleagues tested how well the mole-rats fared in a chamber with only 5 percent oxygen, which is about a quarter of the oxygen in the air we breathe, and can kill a mouse in less than 15 minutes.

They watched closely, ready to pull the mole-rats out at the first sign of trouble.

“So we put them in the chamber and after five minutes, nothing. No problems,” Park says. An hour later, there were still no problems.

Five hours later, the researchers were tired and hungry and ready to go home, but the mole-rats could’ve kept chugging along.

“Oh, I think so,” says Park. “They had more stamina than the researchers.”

The animals had slowed down a bit, he says, but were awake, walking around and even socializing.

“They looked completely fine,” he says.

Next, the researchers decided to see how the mole-rats dealt with zero percent oxygen.

“And that was a surprise, too,” he says.

Such conditions can kill a mouse in 45 seconds.

The four mole-rats involved in this leg of the study passed out after about 30 seconds, but their hearts kept beating and — a full 18 minutes later — the mole-rats woke up and resumed life as usual when they were re-exposed to normal air. (The three mole-rats that were exposed for 30 minutes, however, died.)


When the researchers looked at tissue samples taken from the mole-rats at various times during the oxygen deprivation, they noticed a spike in levels of another sugar, fructose, about 10 minutes in.

“We weren’t looking for it, but bang, fructose goes way up in the blood and then it goes way up in the organs and it gets used by heart and brain,” Park says.

The naked mole-rats appear to have the option of switching fuels from glucose, which requires oxygen to create energy, to fructose, which doesn’t.

Humans are capable of storing and using fructose in the liver and kidney, but as Park explains, we don’t have enough of the correct enzyme to create energy directly from fructose. Nor do we have enough of the proteins necessary to move fructose molecules into the cells of vital organs. Our cells have to convert it into glucose in order to use it.

The cells in the brain, heart, liver and lungs of naked mole-rats are all outfitted with proteins that moves fructose into the cells, and with the right enzyme to create energy from it.

“They have a social structure like insects, they’re cold-blooded like reptiles, and now we found that they use fructose like a plant,” Park says.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    This is actual vivisection. There are laws against this, and Park and his coworkers and students should be prosecuted. Park might have gotten away with this in Korea, but he’s working in Illinois.

    I think I will go over to UIC and file a formal complaint.

  2. Buckethead says:

    Yeah, but it’s a mole rat, not a cute animal like an otter or anything.

  3. Lucklucky says:

    If it — what is the pronoun that rats are not offended with? — was already disneyfied, they should be very afraid.

  4. Dirtnap Ninja says:

    Naked Molerats also do not feel pain.

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