Naked mole rats are known for having envious life spans, and they tend to remain healthy right up until the end; now researchers are discovering their secrets.
New research suggests the bald rodents can owe their 30-year-long lifespan to "better constructed proteins," a University of Rochester press release reported.
Proteins take part in almost all cell functions and are essential for all organisms. The proteins must fold into the appropriate shape in order to serve their purpose.
"While this is basic research we hope our findings encourage further studies on better protein synthesis," Vera Gorbunova, one of the study leaders, said.
The researchers looked at the naked mole rat's ribosomes, which serve as the creation point of the proteins. Gorbunova and her partner Andrei Seluanov worked with the RNA (rRNA) of the animal. They applied dye to their samples and looked at them under ultraviolet light. They saw three dark bands, which were different concentrations of rRNA molecules. Most animals only have two bands.
The finding suggested the rDNA had a "hidden break" that could affect the quality of the protein.
"Ribosome RNA strands act as scaffolds on the ribosome, a protein synthesis machine. Changing the shape of the scaffold can have a profound effect on the organization of the ribosome parts," the press release stated.
Gorbunova and Seluanov found the "scaffold" was unique, The rRNA strands "split at two specific locations and discard the intervening segment."
Instead of going off in separate directions, the two segments stick close together and work in tandem to create a functional ribosome.
When the ribosome connects amino acids together to form the proteins sometimes an incorrect amino acid is inserted. The team noticed the naked mole rat's cells were an impressive 40 percent less likely to contain one of these mistakes.
"This is important because proteins with no aberrations help the body to function more efficiently," Seluanov said.
Researchers hope to split rRNA the same way in mice to see if it will extend their lives and prevent the same problem.