Naked mole-rats shatter conventions of reproduction and aging

Avatar By Tyler MacDonald | 12 months ago

A new study sheds light on the genetic mechanisms of naked mole-rats, where two breeders live amongst 300 non-breeders, carry the reproductive cost and, in turn, live longer. The data defies the standard conventions of these biological processes, which is examined by corresponding author Martin Bens and his team.

“Our results indicate that when naked mole-rats mature into breeders, it changes their aging rates, meaning that breeders are able to live longer than non-breeders,” he said. “This is surprising, as evidence from other species suggest that reproduction, which ensures the survival of the species as a whole, reduces the lifespan of the individual.”

“In naked mole-rats reproduction appears to prolong the breeders’ lifespan,” he added. “This goes against the common expectation that mammals either invest resources in a long life or in reproduction.”

The team found that genes connected to aging are expressed differently in breeding naked mole-rat samples compared to those from non-breeding naked mole-rats and guinea pigs. These gene expression changes might be behind the extended lifespan of naked mole-rat breeders.

“Unlike non-breeding guinea pigs and other rodents, non-breeding naked mole-rats are not sexually dimorphic; they show no differences in body size, body mass or external genitalia, as well as few behavioral differences,” Bens said. “One of the main and surprising findings of our study is that transcribed genes in non-breeding naked mole-rats also show no significant differences between females and males. However, we found that the transcriptome changes significantly when they mature into breeders.”

The findings will help us better understand naked mole-rat genetics and the regulation of their sexual maturation.

The findings were published in BMC Biology.