- April 20 view article

Naked mole-rats ‘turn into plants’ to survive without oxygen, scientists find

The unique back-up system completely protects sensitive organs such as the heart and brain.

Scientists believe that it may be possible to trigger the same metabolism shift in humans who have suffered heart attacks or strokes, where most of the damage occurs because cells are starved of oxygen, and then die.

"Our work is the first evidence that a mammal switches to fructose as a fuel," said Prof Gary Lewin, of the Max Delbrück Center of Molecular Medicine in Berlin.

“Patients who suffer an infarction or stroke experience irreparable damage after just a few minutes of oxygen deprivation. Theoretically, very few changes might be needed to adopt this unusual metabolism."

Researchers found that the bodies of naked mole rats are flooded with molecules and enzymes which allows fructose to be metabolised.

Humans need an atmosphere which has at least 10 per cent oxygen to survive, but naked mole rats have evolved to live in stuffy underground burrows in the African desert which can be 15 miles long, and have little air.

They are also highly social creatures that snuggle together at night for warmth, but can end up nearly suffocating if they are trapped in the middle of a ‘mole ball.’

In the new study, the researchers exposed naked mole-rats to low oxygen conditions in the laboratory and found that they released large amounts of fructose into the bloodstream, a metabolic process previously only seen in plants.

The experiment showed they can survive 18 minutes of complete oxygen deprivation by falling into a kind of suspended animation. When this happens their heart rate drops from 200 beats per minute to around 50. - April 20 view article