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MinuteEarth

Watch: Do We Really Have to Get Old And Die?

BEC CREW
30 JUN 2015

You've probably heard of the phrase, "Benjamin buttoning", used to describe someone who gets discernably hotter and more youthful-looking the more birthdays they have. But although some lucky people appear to 'age in reverse', no human has ever actually managed it, biologically speaking. But that doesn't make it impossible, explains the latest episode of MinuteEarth, and here's three words to prove it: naked. mole. rat.

 

Unlike their fluffier relatives, such as chipmunks and capybaras, the naked mole rat doesn't appear to age. While they might get older age-wise, naked mole rats don't appear to suffer from many of the key symptoms of old age - weakness, susceptibility to disease, and the inability to produce many healthy offspring. Amazingly, naked mole rats aren't any more likely to die of old age than they are when they're young adults.

And while naked mole rats sure are the most... charismatic... members of the 'doesn't age' club, they're not the only ones, with rockfish, lobsters, and bristlecone pines also appearing to stay happily middle-aged forever, says Henry Reich in the video above.

So how do they do it? No one's really sure, but scientists think it could have something to do with these species' ability to regrow the telomere caps on the ends of their chromosomes - structures that have been linked in many studies to the process of ageing. This is because in many species, each time their cells replicate, they lose a little bit of DNA from their telomeres. When you're young, this doesn't really matter because what you're losing is junk DNA anyway, but as you grow older, the DNA you lose starts to become important. 

The difference between humans and naked mole rats is that naked mole rats have the ability to pump out high levels of telomere-rebuilding enzymes, says the episode of MinuteEarth above. So surely we could figure out how to replicate this in ourselves? Maybe, says Henry, but it'll lead to a whole lot of other problems if we do. Watch the episode above to find out about the pitfalls of drinking from the elusive fountain of youth.