Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

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Infertility is not an issue for naked mole rats

Image of naked mole-rats by Edward Russell via Wikimedia Commons

Naked mole-rats have attracted the attention of scientists once again. Not only do they live very long lives (30+ years), while typically avoiding cancer, females remain fertile their whole life. Unlocking their secrets to avoiding menopause may lead to new ways to treat infertility.

New research has identified their tricks for lifelong fertility. It turns out that female naked mole-rats have 1.5 million egg cells (oocytes) when they are born, which is a lot more than people or other rodents are born with. They also lose fewer oocytes throughout their life and, unlike humans and rodents, they keep producing eggs after birth. This means that they do not experience the age-related decline in fertility that other mammals develop.

Reproduction is suppressed in all but one female in a colony of naked mole-rats. That means only the queen is able to breed. If the queen dies or is otherwise removed from the colony, then other females begin to compete to take over the role as queen. Unlike other colonies of animals, or human royalty for that matter, any female can become queen. Once a female takes over as queen, she starts to make new oocytes. She also ages more slowly.

The ability to turn on the production of oocytes as well as slow down aging are amazing characteristics of naked mole-rats. Imagine if doctors could turn on the production of oocytes in humans. It may be a major advancement in the treatment of age-related diseases and infertility.


MA Brieno-Enriquez, M Faykoo-Martinez, M Goben, JK Grenier, A McGrath, AM Prado, J Sinopoli, K Wagner, PT Walsh, SH Lopa, DJ Laird, PE Cohen, MD Wilson, MM Holmes, NJ Place. Postnatal oogenesis leads to an exceptionally large ovarian reserve in naked mole-rats. Nature Communications. 14: 670, 2023.

Categories: Aging, Comparative Physiology, Environment, Extreme Animals, Nature's Solutions, Reproduction and Development

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