Don’t hold your breath against a naked mole rat.

Naked mole rats are affectionately known as an odd freak of nature. They can live for up to 30 years (which is absolutely astonishing for a rodent its size),  are resistant to pain, and are practically immune to cancer (only two known individuals ever were found with cancer). Now, scientists have discovered another interesting fact regarding these rodents: they can last 18 minutes without oxygen.

Most people can’t last 2 minutes without gasping for air, so it’s quite a shock that a small rodent can do this for 18 minutes! Granted, the naked mole rats lose consciousness nearing the 18 minute mark, but they completely recover after being exposed to normal oxygen levels. They have a handy trick that has been evolved throughout their generations. Their secret is that they switch from using glucose as energy to using fructose as energy. To break down sugar, humans as well as almost every other mammal go through glycolysis, which uses up oxygen. Glycolysis happens immediately during the breakdown of glucose. However, with fructose, the process of glycolysis happens in later steps. This means that the production of energy can go on without the use of oxygen for a time.

It makes sense that a different kind of energy production would evolve among naked mole rats. They live and burrow underground with as many as 300 other naked mole rats. This makes oxygen a bit of luxury. Having a way to survive in an environment with a much lower oxygen concentration would be extremely beneficial.

 

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