The naked digger, a small creature that spends its life underground in sub-Saharan Africa, may hold the key to unlocking the secrets of longevity and resistance to old age. Scientists at the University of Rochester who have been studying these amazing creatures have made a groundbreaking discovery that could potentially change human health and longevity. The study was published in the journal Nature
Previous research has shown that Naked Shrews have unique cellular aging mechanisms that account for their long lifespan (up to 41 years) as well as resistance to age-related diseases. Building on this knowledge, the researchers genetically modified mice to produce a version of a specific gene called hyaluronan synthase 2 (HAS2) in Naked Moles. This gene is responsible for producing a protein that forms high molecular weight hyaluronic acid (HMW-HA), which is found in much higher amounts in the Naked Mole Mole’s body than in other mammals.
The modification led to an improvement in the overall health of the aging mice and an increase in average lifespan of about 4.4%. While this increase may seem modest, it is significant given the short lifespan of the mice. Translated into human terms, this increase is equivalent to an 80-year-old person living an additional 3.5 years.
However, the benefits are not just limited to increased longevity. Mice with the version of the HAS2 gene from the Naked Mammals also showed better cancer protection, reduced inflammation, and healthier guts. Naked Shrews have about 10 times more HMW-HA than humans, and when this molecule was removed from their bodies, their body cells were more likely to form cancerous tumors. This suggests that HMW-HA plays a critical role in regulating the immune system and preventing cancer.
“Our study provides evidence that the unique longevity mechanisms evolved in long-lived mammals can be exported to extend the lifespan of other mammals,” said Vera Gorbunova, professor of biology and medicine at Rochester.
The researchers believe their findings could have significant implications for human health and longevity. Understanding the mechanisms underlying the Naked Mammal’s exceptional resistance to aging may allow scientists to develop interventions that can increase human longevity and improve overall health.
“It took 10 years from the discovery of HMW-HA in Naked Molehills to the demonstration that HMW-HA improves the health of mice,” says Gorbunova. “Our next goal is to transfer these benefits to humans.”
While more research is needed to fully understand the capabilities of HMW-HA and its application in humans, this study is an important step toward unraveling the mysteries of aging and finding ways to increase human longevity.