• Ruqayya Khan

Birthday suit for all occasions

Naked mole-rats Heterocephalus glaber are born wrinkled and pink, with few whisker-like hairs to help them navigate their surroundings. They are quite comfortable in their own skin, and keep their birthday suits and style throughout their life span!

And that life span (>30 years) is quite considerable: naked mole-rats are extremely long-lived compared to other rodents. That's not their only superpower. They famously have an incredibly decreased risk of cancer [1]. They have reduced pain sensitivity.

They are also exceptionally built for a life underground [2]. Their lips are stationed behind their front teeth, allowing them to dig with their shovel-like teeth without filling their mouths with dirt. Interestingly, their teeth can operate similar to chopsticks, separating and moving together to aid their digging [3]. They're able to survive without or in very low oxygen concentrations for long periods of time; 18 minutes at 0% oxygen and around 5 hours at 5% oxygen! Their small eyes and poor vision aren't a hindrance, as they rarely leave the dark tunnels they dig.

Naked mole-rat by Josh More, [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0], via flickr.com

They are also social! Specifically, the naked mole-rat social structure is eusocial, operating more similar to a bee-hive than other rodent colonies. One queen mole-rat rules the colony while producing offspring. Like a well-oiled machine, each mole-rat has a purpose in the colony. "Workers" spend their lives digging tunnels, gathering food, and raising the pups while "soldiers" protect the colony from predators. As colonies tend to be highly inbred, "dispersers" seek to leave their native colonies in search of others to live and mate with. These dispersers are behaviorally and morphologically distinct from their peers, generally having a higher body fat content [4].

Today, we share the chromosome-length assembly for the naked mole-rat, Heterocephalus glaber. This genome assembly is a Hi-C upgrade for the draft genome assembly generated by Keane M. et al., Bioinformatics (2014). Please visit the Naked Mole-Rat Genome Resource at http://www.naked-mole-rat.org for the draft genome assembly and more existing genomic resources for this fascinating rodent! Many thanks to Kong from the Houston Zoo for providing the sample used for this chromosome-length Hi-C upgrade (check out the interactive map below).

We're no strangers to rodents here at the DNA Zoo as this is our 18th chromosome-length genome from the rodentia order! Check out the assembly page for the only other known eusocial mammal, the Damaraland mole-rat! Read also this paper by Zhou et al., 2020 with an independent assembly of a Canadian beaver (also assembled independently in our collection, here) and the naked mole-rat.


Keane, M., Craig, T., Alföldi, J., Berlin, A. M., Johnson, J., Seluanov, A., Gorbunova, V., Di Palma, F., Lindblad-Toh, K., Church, G. M., & de Magalhães, J. P. (2014). The Naked Mole Rat Genome Resource: facilitating analyses of cancer and longevity-related adaptations. Bioinformatics (Oxford, England), 30(24), 3558–3560. https://doi.org/10.1093/bioinformatics/btu579

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