Prioritizing the few exceptionally long-lived mammal species for full genome sequencing has been a few years in the making as a project, but I see that the researchers who initiated that effort have now completed the first item on their list:
The industrious but unlovely naked mole rat is the latest creature to have its genome sequenced by scientists. A genetic blueprint for this bizarre-looking rodent could help researchers understand why it is so long-lived.
For the first time, scientists have sequenced the genome of the naked mole-rat to understand its longevity and resistance to diseases of ageing. Researchers will use the genomic information to study the mechanisms thought to protect against the causes of ageing, such as DNA repair and genes associated with these processes. To date, cancer has not been detected in the naked mole-rat. Recent studies have suggested that its cells possess anti-tumour capabilities that are not present in other rodents or in humans. Researchers at Liverpool are analysing the genomic data and making it available to researchers in health sciences, providing information that could be relevant to studies in human ageing and cancer.
Dr Joao Pedro Magalhaes, from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Integrative Biology, said: "The naked mole-rat has fascinated scientists for many years, but it wasn't until a few years ago that we discovered that it could live for such a long period of time. It is not much bigger than a mouse, which normally lives up to four years, and yet this particular underground rodent lives for three decades in good health. It is an interesting example of how much we still have to learn about the mechanisms of ageing. We aim to use the naked mole-rat genome to understand the level of resistance it has to disease, particularly cancer, as this might give us more clues as to why some animals and humans are more prone to disease than others. With this work, we want to establish the naked mole-rat as the first model of resistance to chronic diseases of ageing."
It will likely take a few years for the first interesting results to emerge from the genomic data - grants must be written, teams formed, studies carried out. Science, while fast, isn't yet instant. While researchers have a good idea as where in naked mole rat biochemistry they should be looking for both cancer resistance and longevity, molecular biology is an inordinately complex field of study. On the longevity side of the house, the composition of cellular membranes appears to be of greatest interest. You might look back into the Fight Aging! archives at these posts:
The membrane pacemaker hypothesis predicts that long-living species will have more peroxidation-resistant membrane lipids than shorter living species.
Resistance to oxidative damage is of particular importance in mitochondria, cellular power plants that progressive damage themselves with the reactive oxygen species they produce as a byproduct of their operation - and that gives rise to a chain of further biochemical damage that spreads throughout the body, growing ever more harmful as you age. Less damage to the mitochondria should mean slower aging, and thus more resistant mitochondrial membranes should also mean slower aging.