Posted on: Sunday, 29 November 2009, 08:30 CST
A resilient rodent from the horn of Africa has begun charming scientists around the world. Resistant to cancer and aging better than Sean Connery, the remarkable, if somewhat unattractive, naked mole rat is proving to be a biological wonder and a new source of scientific inquiry.
"They really are from Mars, I think," Thomas Park, biological sciences professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told the Associated Press.
Able to live up to 30 years, these 3 to 4 inch East African critters are being used to study everything from strokes to cancer to aging in hopes that scientists might find new insights into human health complications.
At the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, researcher Rochelle Buffenstein is responsible for tending a 1,500-member-strong mole rat colony that makes its abode in series of large clear tanks connected by long transparent tubes. Though the San Antonio colony is by far the largest in the U.S., a number of other universities around the country have begun founding their own mole rat communities for research purposes.
Buffenstein is particularly concerned with keeping track of the longevity of these tiny, blind, buck-toothed rodents who exhibit a form of intense social organization, known as eusociality, that is extremely rare in mammals.
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