Naked mole rats, “immortal” African rodents, can survive up to 20 minutes of complete deprivation of oxygen due to the ability of their cells to use pure fructose for the production of energy, which makes them similar to plants, according to a paper published in the journal Science.
“We first were able to show that at least one mammal can switch from glucose metabolism to fructose by a lack of oxygen. Our brain and other organs are irreversibly damaged after a couple of minutes after cardiac arrest or stroke. Since DNA of mice and naked mole rats, 94% identical, it is possible that we will be able to “borrow” this unusual metabolism in the future,” said Gary Levine (Gary Lewin) from the Center for molecular medicine in Berlin (Germany).
Naked mole rat (Heteroce halus glaber) is a unique mammal with many unique properties. This hairless subterranean rodent the size of a mouse and weighing 30-50 grams lives in East Africa. In 1970-e years scientists have discovered that these beings live extraordinarily long for its size and is not affected by cancer. In addition, the diggers don’t feel any pain and do not respond to irritation by the acids.
Diggers underground to form colonies of several dozen individuals, led by a female “Queen”, the only species producing offspring in the colony. All other members of the colony remain in the position of the workers and not involved in reproduction, as their sexual organs are not able to produce offspring. Such a social structure — a common occurrence in bees and ants, but a rare case in mammals.
As Levin says, the diggers, there is another “superpower” – they quietly tolerate the lack of oxygen and survive even in cases when they are completely deprived of oxygen for 18-20 minutes. According to biologist, even after this time, the diggers have no problems with health and their body does not occur mass destruction of cells.
What they need is a skill, not a secret – diggers live in the narrow and “crowded” tunnels and labyrinths, where the oxygen concentration is always below normal. On the other hand, how they manage to survive in such conditions, was not known and remains a subject of debate among scientists.
Levin and his colleagues decided to reveal that, by placing a few diggers from the Berlin colony of these rodents in special cages, where oxygen concentration could be managed flexibly, and followed the varied work of their body during the lowering of the proportion of O2 in the air to zero and return to normal values.
It turned out that the diggers use several techniques to protect against lack of oxygen. First, the speed of their metabolism decreases if there is insufficient O2, and eventually, about five hours after his fall before the deadly human values, these rodents hibernate in suspended animation.
Second, the diggers once again proved to be the most unique animals on Earth. As scientists discovered in the cells of the brain and all other organs of these rodents present a special set of enzymes that allow them to not eat glucose and fructose. Decomposition of fructose, unlike glucose, does not require oxygen, allowing the cells to survive over an hour, switching to an alternative source of food.
Interestingly, other mammals, only cells of the liver and intestines can absorb glucose and other organs and tissue do not have this ability. In this respect, naked mole rats are much closer to plants than to animals, as decomposition of fructose is one of the main ways of extracting energy from nutrients for the flora. Accordingly, it is possible to say that the digger is temporarily transformed into a “plant” trying to survive the lack of oxygen.