While they may not appreciate the crack about beauty contests, naked mole rats have carved out a reputation for healthy living.
They can last as long as 30 years and stay healthy right up to the end-and that includes never getting cancer. In fact, when naked mole rat cells are induced to form a tumor, the rodents stop the threat almost immediately.
In announcing the Vertebrate of the Year honor, Science cited two research papers published this year, both written by Gorbunova and Seluanov. According to the magazine, one paper explained how a ribosome in naked mole rats "excels at producing error-free proteins," while the other focused on "a supersized version of a complex sugar that...builds up in the spaces between cells and may keep the cells from clumping together and forming tumors."
Gorbunova said that the Vertebrate of the Year announcement is ultimately recognition that our work using unconventional animal models is on the same level as other top scientific developments in cancer research.
Gorbunova and Seluanov are currently trying to apply naked mole rat-like adaptations to mice in order to test whether that would boost longevity and resistance to cancer in that rodent.