Blind mole rats, as you can imagine just by their name, are not blessed with good looks, but they seem to be blessed with just about everything else. They live several times more than rodents their size and they don't get cancer, among other supernatural traits.
One team of researchers from the University of Rochester set out to find out why two related species of blind mole rats, Spalax judaei and Spalax golani, both from Israel, didn't get cancer.
They nurtured cells from the two species in a control environment and created conditions for them to mutate and multiply without stopping, as is the case with cancer cells.
What they found was quite astounding, the cells would multiply normally for a while, but after the seventh to 20th multiplication they would suddenly die off.
The researchers found that after the cells had multiplied beyond what would have been normal, they started producing the IFN-β protein that killed them off, they effectively committed suicide.
In practical terms, this means that any cancer cells would die before they have any chance of doing any damage.
What's even more surprising was that this particular blind mole rat's method of fighting off cancer is different from the one employed by naked mole rats of Africa.
The researchers had expected to find similar results to the study on the naked mole rats. These creatures, also immune to cancer, fight off the disease in a somewhat similar fashion, the cells stop multiplying much sooner than in other animals.
In naked mole rats, the gene p16, which is responsible for stopping cell multiplication after a certain phase, comes into play much sooner than p27, which serves the same role in other mammals but also in the naked mole rats.
Naked mole rat cells are also hypersensitive to contact inhibition, which stops cells from multiplying when they touch each other.