WE haven’t seen much reported about this, but there may be big news arising from the study of a humble creature called the naked mole rat.
From the news office of the University of Rochester we read Scientists Discover Gene that ‘Cancer-Proofs’ Rodent’s Cells , subtitled: “Naked Mole Rat, the Only Known Cancerless Animal, Has Two-Tier Defense Against Cancer.” Here are some excerpts, with bold added by us:
Despite a 30-year lifespan that gives ample time for cells to grow cancerous, a small rodent species called a naked mole rat has never been found with tumors of any kind — and now biologists at the University of Rochester think they know why.
The findings, presented in today’s issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the mole rat’s cells express a gene called p16 that makes the cells “claustrophobic,” stopping the cells’ proliferation when too many of them crowd together, cutting off runaway growth before it can start. The effect of p16 is so pronounced that when researchers mutated the cells to induce a tumor, the cells’ growth barely changed, whereas regular mouse cells became fully cancerous.
Here’s a link to the abstract of the published paper: Hypersensitivity to contact inhibition provides a clue to cancer resistance of naked mole-rat.
Let’s read on:
“We think we’ve found the reason these mole rats don’t get cancer, and it’s a bit of a surprise,” says Vera Gorbunova, associate professor of biology at the University of Rochester and lead investigator on the discovery. “It’s very early to speculate about the implications, but if the effect of p16 can be simulated in humans we might have a way to halt cancer before it starts.”
Now you can see why this is worth knowing about. We continue:
Naked mole rats are strange, ugly, nearly hairless mouse-like creatures that live in underground communities. Unlike any other mammal, these communities consist of queens and workers more reminiscent of bees than rodents. Naked mole rats can live up to 30 years, which is exceptionally long for a small rodent. Despite large numbers of naked mole-rats under observation, there has never been a single recorded case of a mole rat contracting cancer, says Gorbunova. Adding to their mystery is the fact that mole rats appear to age very little until the very end of their lives.
That’s probably enough excerpts to get you interested. You’ll want to click over to the University of Rochester to read it all. But here’s a little bit more:
Like many animals, including humans, the mole rats have a gene called p27 that prevents cellular overcrowding, but the mole rats use another, earlier defense in gene p16. Cancer cells tend to find ways around p27, but mole rats have a double barrier that a cell must overcome before it can grow uncontrollably.
“We believe the additional layer of protection conferred by this two-tiered contact inhibition contributes to the remarkable tumor resistance of the naked mole rat,” says Gorbunova in the PNAS paper.
We won’t be hearing from the creationist websites about this, unless it’s to “explain” things by saying that we lost our p16 gene in the Fall.
Update: See Naked Mole Rat’s Genome Sequenced.
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