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World's Weirdest: Did You Know That Naked Mole Rats Can Survive 18 Minutes Without Oxygen?

Apr 21, 2017 10:27 AM EDT
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Naked Mole Rats
A naked mole rat, which lives in tiny burrows usually with hundreds of others of them, can go on healthily with only six percent of oxygen around it. What's more incredible about these weird-looking mammals is that they are able to survive 18 minutes with zero oxygen.
(Photo : Cornell University/YouTube Screenshot)

For many species, oxygen is everything. Three minutes without it would make a normal person faint. According to The Atlantic, a person needs at least 20 percent of oxygen around him to survive, however, a naked mole rat, which lives in tiny burrows usually with hundreds of others of them, can go on healthily with only six percent of oxygen around it. What's more incredible about these weird-looking mammals is that they are able to survive 18 minutes with zero oxygen.

Thomas Park, a neuroscientist at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and Gary Lewin, a physiologist at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, placed naked mole rats and mice in a chamber with only five percent oxygen.

Results of the experiment, published in the journal Science, revealed that after few minutes, the mice died while the naked mole rats survived the harsh condition.

In an interview with Discover Magazine, Park said that they were nervous to conduct the study as their test involved putting naked mole rats in 5 percent oxygen. 

"We knew a five percent oxygen would be deadly for humans and for laboratory mice, so we were kind of ready to abort this experiment right at the beginning," Park said. "And we put them in and fifteen minutes later they looked fine, after an hour they looked fine, and after five hours of exposure to five percent O2 they still looked fine," he continued.

But the experiment did not stop there. The duo placed the naked mole rats in another set-up, this time, with zero percent oxygen. Still, the incredible mammals weathered though it. The same condition kills a mice in 45 seconds.

Speaking with WPRL 91.7, the researchers said the naked mole rats passed out after about 30 seconds, but their hearts kept beating. Eighteen minutes after, as they were exposed to normal oxygen conditions, the naked mole rats regained their consciousness and acted as if nothing happened.

By looking at the chemicals that build up in the creature's heart, brain and other organs as they were without oxygen, the researchers saw fructose (a sugar compound found in plants) all over the naked mole rat's body.

National Geographic said that usually, when there is a buildup of fructose in an organism, the body tissues will be damaged. However, naked mole rats have enzymes to process the fructose and prevent damage.

Without oxygen, they start to metabolize the fructose. It is distributed even on their heart and brain, and that is what keeps them alive. They are the only known mammal that can exhibit such amazing ability.

Sydney Morning Herald noted that aside from being unfazed by low-oxygen levels, these hairless mammals also don't get cancer, are immune to types of chronic pain and the irritant in chili peppers.

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