Oct 30, 2009

Cure for Cancer?

If you've been reading this blog for an significant length of time, then you know of my near reverence for the naked mole-rat. For one, they're hairless rodents -- instant launch to the top of any ugly animal list. But beyond that, they've got some amazing characteristics.

They are the only mammals that are cold-blooded (they maintain their body heat by cuddling and staying underground), are hive-minded (like ants), and are able to enlarge their spine (the queen does, when she ascends the throne). Additionally, their teeth grow outside their lips, so they can keep their mouths closed when they burrow with their teeth. They're known to be incredibly gregarious and curious.

Photo source: Popular Science
















But there's something else about them that has scientists reeling: they're immune to cancer. Us vertebrates have a gene called p27 which serves as our main defense against cancer. But cancers have found ways to circumvent p27, thereby allowing the cancerous cells to proliferate themselves. But naked mole-rats are unique in that they have an additional gene called p16, which stops cancers cold, by preventing the affected cells from replicating themselves.

Is it possible that future humans will be sporting the naked mole-rate p16 in their own DNA? Perhaps the world will become a better place, with us becoming more gregarious. But then we might also become cold-blooded troglodytes that are prone to burrowing and shunning that bright orb hanging in the sky...

Thanks for the article, Ida.

6 comments:

alcyonidae said...

What a glorious mammal! Whenever my sister and I go to the zoo, we watch them longer than any other animal. And for some strange reason, there's never a crowd around their little exhibit! So sad.
Two more amazing factoids--they use tools (little pieces of wood to keep from choking while digging) and they have a very rich vocal repertoire that we have yet to decode. What are they saying to each other, deep in the burrow? Only time will tell!

Raging Wombat said...

Morgan, you managed to make them even more endearing to me.

Ellen said...

I, too am infatuated with these tiny creatures. They may gain popularity as they have been seen on some cartoons lately! I hope this discovery can lead us to a cure... Wouldn't that be a great legacy that these creatures could leave to mankind?

Brenda said...

I already burrow and shun the daystar. Bring on the genetic modifications! :3

Answer man said...

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Xtremeguy007's Blogs said...

very interesting........