RESPECT FOR AN ELDER. Twenty-one-year-old Dara Neuman, a senior majoring in biology in Cornells College of Arts and Sciences, displays a naked mole-rat that was born years before she was. The extreme longevity of the rodents is said to help confirm the evolutionary theory of senescence
Cornell University Photography
Copyright © Cornell University
Virtually hairless, venerably wrinkled and very nearly blind, naked mole-rats -- those homely rodents from underground Africa -- remind some zoo-goers of little old men.
The resemblance is more than coincidence. They really are really old males -- and females, too -- biologists report in an article scheduled for November publication in the Journal of Zoology (Vol. 258, Part 3). Many naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber) in laboratory colonies in the United States and South Africa have lived more than 20 years, and some are at least 26 years old, making them by far the oldest small rodents in captivity.
That distinction won’t get them birthday greetings from the president. But their species is being hailed as a perfect exemplar for the evolutionary theory of senescence (or aging), which explains why some bodies wear out before others. Senescence theory also tries to explain, for example, why gerbils live only a couple of years, humans regularly live eight to nine decades and redwood trees for millennia.
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