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Naked mole rats are unique in many ways. For one, they're the only mammals with a hive mind, obeying their queen as if they were ants. Also, they feel no pain, an adaptation still not fully understood. But most importantly for us, they are the only animals that don't get cancer.
And now, a new study by scientists at the University of Rochester, New York, explains at last why these horrific animals, of all of the world's creatures, are immune to cancer.
According to the scientists, the mole rat's cells express a gene that tells cells to stop dividing. The gene, called p16, forms a second ring of defense against cancer. Most mammals, including humans, only have one gene, p27, protecting cells from cancer. And while most cancers know a way around p27, p16 stops them cold.