Lifestyle & Belief

Naked mole rat may hold secret to longer life, better health, scientists say (VIDEO)

So it's a naked mole rat.... Don't judge. 

This underground-dwelling, blind, hairless, putrid-smelling, bucktooth, sausage-shaped — and some might say incredibly ugly — creature may hold the secret to longer life, and good health while you're living it.

And here's the interesting news, ladies: Naked mole rats reportedly have queens who mate with up to three males.

It gets even better for lovers of Mexican and Thai cuisine: The rats are reportedly immune to the pain of irritation caused by acids like lemon juice, and capsaicin, the spicy ingredient in chili peppers.

A team of 36 scientists on three continents has been working busily to understand why the rodent — which lives into its 30s — about 10 times longer than other similarly sized rodents and is cancer-resistant — lives such a long, healthy life.

On Wednesday, they published the rat's genome, a summary of which you'll find in the journal Nature under the headline "More than Teeth," complete with charts and definitions, and a lot of unpronounceable words.

Success could mean treatments for such intractable human diseases as Alzheimer's, stroke and, yes, the big C. Then, there's the obvious marketability of a "cure" for death. 

Naked mole rat enthusiast — and study researcher — Thomas Park, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells LiveScience

"They are very odd, they are really freaky and they have a lot of really interesting specializations. We are working to understand how they come to have these very interesting characteristics. Having the genome gives us a whole new armory of ways in which we can approach this."

And in case you still don't understand the attraction: 

"They had huge teeth, they ran backwards as much as forwards, and they chatted among themselves constantly," Thomas Park reportedly said of the first time he saw a mole rat during a post-doctoral year in Munich. "I thought they were great, and I knew right then and there that I had to get some of these guys into the lab."

The naked mole rat, or Heterocephalus glaber, is found only in the Horn of Africa, where it burrows six feet below the inhospitable surface with up to 100 others, thriving despite incredibly low oxygen levels. 

Writes LiveScience: "The air they breathe is so toxic that it would kill or lead to irreversible brain damage in any other mammal."  

It is the only cold-blooded mammal.

Researchers will make the rat's genome freely available online so that, according to LiveScience, "diverse groups that study specific genes involved in cancer and longevity can look up those genes and determine how they may be different in the naked mole rat."

"It is very basic science," Park said. "But it can be a very useful tool as it gets into the hands of scientists worldwide."