HMM-HA may have first evolved as an adaptation for animals that have to squeeze through tight, rocky tunnels underground. It helps make their skin stretchy - grab hold of one and you’ll feel like their skin is slipping from your grasp. It may have been a happy coincidence that the HMM-HA also signals cells to stop them from becoming cancerous. Clinical use of the naked moles’ HMM-HA will open up new possibilities for cancer prevention and life extension in humans.
Naked mole rats are one of the only two mammalian species to live in structured social colonies. Each colony comprises 70 to 300 naked mole rats, led by the queen. She is larger than the others and the only one to breed. The queen often inspects the tunnels and chambers that make up her ‘kingdom’, biting and pushing her ‘subjects’ to remind them who’s boss. For the queen is not born into her position: she earned it by fighting off the other females when the queen before her died. A queen’s position is never secure and she must defend her title if she wants to stay in charge.
Naked moles seem to do the majority of a year's digging just after the rainy season, when the normally hard ground is softened. Those at the ‘frontline’ break through the dirt with their incisors. They shut their nostrils and their lips close behind their front teeth, so they can dig without choking on the dirt. Workers behind them use their strong hind limbs to sweep the soil to a surface opening, where the dirt is kicked up onto the ground, forming a mole hill.
A colony cooperates for the common good of the group and that includes the sharing of food. If a food scout finds a tasty tuber, he or she carves a piece off with those powerful, ever-growing incisors and hurries back to the group, chirping and waving the morsel overhead. The other workers follow the scout's scent (they all roll in their own faeces so they share the same smell) to the tuber, which is then brought back, piece by piece, to the food chamber.