What is the naked mole-rat?

A naked mole-rat. Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

The naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is a long-lived subterranean rodent from the Horn of Africa. The general appearance is that of a small (8 to 10cm long) wrinkled pink animal with overlarge front teeth. The naked mole-rat lives in an underground burrow system that has led to a number of adaptions such as the general inability to regulate body temperature (underground temperature is relatively stable), low metabolic and respiratory rates and lack of reaction to pain in the animals' skin.

They live in a colony with a complex social structure, ranging in size from 75 to 200 individuals. There is a single breeding queen and one to three breeding males. The other individuals in the colony are temporary sterile workers that collect food and defend the colony. Once the queen dies one of the sterile females will take over the position, losing its sterility.

Why study the naked mole-rat?

Naked mole-rats can live over 30 years which makes this species the longest-lived rodent with a much longer lifespan than expected for their relatively small body size (see Figure). Because naked mole-rats can live remarkably longer than similar-sized rodents, such as mice and rats that can only live up to 4-5 years, they can be used as a model of resistance to disease and, in fact, naked mole-rats are extremely resistant to cancer. Therefore, sequencing its genome allows the development of the sophisticated molecular biology tools necessary for naked mole-rats to be used not only as another model of human biology but primarily as the first model of resistance to chronic diseases of ageing. We hope that our efforts will encourage further studies of naked mole-rats.

Although there are longer-lived mammals than humans, such as the bowhead whale, studies in naked mole-rats have the advantage that they can be conducted in parallel with closely-related short-lived species, in particular mice and rats. Researchers are thus able to study mechanisms and genes previously associated with ageing, cancer and other diseases using a unique comparative approach. Such studies will increase our understanding of the evolution of longevity as well as of the molecular, cellular, and genetic mechanisms of ageing. In addition, the naked mole-rat has other fascinating evolutionary adaptations, such as being virtually poikilothermic which makes it a unique model to study mammalian metabolic regulation and it has a eusocial system that makes it exceptional in studies of growth, development, reproduction, and behavior.

Species longevity showing the naked mole-rat as an outlier outside of the general trend, with a high longetivity but low body mass
Plot of the relationship between log-transformed maximum longevity and typical adult body mass for non-volant mammals (n = 820). Heterocephalus glaber (H. g.) is highlighted by a red square. H. s. = Homo sapiens (in blue). Data from build 9 of the AnAge Database of Animal Ageing and Longevity.

Who developed this resource?

The naked mole-rat genome resource was developed by the Integrative Genomics of Ageing Group (PI: João Pedro de Magalhães) at Liverpool University. The sequencing was performed at the Broad Institute, who also assembled the genome (hetGla2/hetGla_Female_1.0), and the annotation was performed by the NCBI using the Eukaryotic Genome Annotation Pipeline. Other collaborators involved in this project include George Church (Harvard University) and Andrei Seluanov and Vera Gorbunova (Rochester University).

Additional sequencing at over 20x coverage was performed using the Illumina/Solexa platform by The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC). This was not incorporated into the genome portal but is made available for download. Likewise, transcriptome data is available for download.

The mitochondrial genome of the naked mole rat was previously sequenced by others and is available at the NCBI.

Conditions of use

There are no restrictions on the use of our portal or the genome data. It may be freely downloaded and used for all purposes. If you find our resource useful and/or employ the hetGla2/hetGla_Female_1.0 genome assembly then we appreciate if you cite our paper (see below) in publications, presentations, etc.

How to cite this resource

To cite the Naked Mole-Rat Genome Resource and/or the hetGla2/hetGla_Female_1.0 genome assembly please use:

Keane M, Craig T, Alfoldi J, Berlin AM, Johnson J, Seluanov A, Gorbunova V, Di Palma F, Lindblad-Toh K, Church GM, de Magalhães JP (2014) The Naked Mole Rat Genome Resource: facilitating analyses of cancer and longevity-related adaptations. Bioinformatics. 30, 3558-3560.


  1. Buffenstein R (2008). Negligible senescence in the longest living rodent, the naked mole-rat: insights from a successfully aging species. J Comp Physiol B. 178, 439-445.
  2. de Magalhaes JP, Sedivy JM, Finch CE, Austad SN, Church GM (2007). A proposal to sequence genomes of unique interest for research on aging. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 62, 583-584.
  3. Yu C, Li Y, Holmes A, Szafranski K, Faulkes CG, Coen CW, Buffenstein R, Platzer M, de Magalhaes JP, Church GM (2011). RNA sequencing reveals differential expression of mitochondrial and oxidation reduction genes in the long-lived naked mole-rat when compared to mice. PLoS One. 6, e26729.