The mammals that defy age

In case naked mole rats weren’t weird enough already, scientists now think they could live forever

Here’s a list of the odd things we already knew about naked mole rats:

  • They’re almost completely hairless
  • They live in huge underground colonies with a complex social structure
  • They’re not far off being cold-blooded
  • They very rarely develop cancer
  • They hardly feel any pain
  • They can survive for 18 minutes without oxygen
  • They never reach menopause and can continue to breed until they die


Now, after the release of some new scientific research, we can add another bullet point:


  • They don’t age like other mammals do


It had already been discovered that the bones and hearts of naked mole rats never show signs of ageing, but their age-resisting abilities apparently go even further.


In 1825, British mathematician Benjamin Gompertz, proposed a mathematical formula to describe the increase in mortality risk as a mammal ages. Gompertz’s law predicts that a mammal’s chance of death grows exponentially once it’s reached maturity, and it’s turned out to be fairly accurate. In humans, it means that our mortality risk doubles roughly every eight years once we’re past 30.


Mole rats, however, are having none of it. Researchers collected 3000 data points on the lives of the animals and found that they don’t just break the rule – they smash it to pieces. Many of the mole rats they studied lived past the age of 30 (for comparison, a rat of the same size would only be expected to reach six in captivity) and their overall mortality curve was almost flat. There was no increase in risk of death as mole rats went through life – those observed died of illnesses including kidney disease and muscle wasting, but this could happen at any time. Not only did age make no difference to their chance of dying – it didn’t seem to affect their behaviour or condition either.


The results of this study suggest that a mole rat that could avoid accident, injury and disease would live indefinitely. There could, of course, be a point at which they start to show their age but, if there is, no mole rat has come close to it yet.



Image: Tim Evanson/flickr