Old Man was thought to be 11/2 to 2 years old in 1980 when he and 75 of his naked mole rat brethren were captured in a Kenyan sweet potato field — sweet potatoes being one of the mole rat's favorite dishes.
Buffenstein brought him first to Cape Town University in South Africa, and then to City College of New York in Harlem. The pair arrived in San Antonio in 2007.
Naked mole rats are noted for their longevity with an average lifespan of 26 years. Other rodents live for two to four years. This makes them particularly useful for aging studies. Naked mole rats do not develop cancer. They develop plaque in their brains as they age like Alzheimer's patients, but they do not display cognitive decline like humans do. Scientists are trying to find out why. Among the long-lived research subjects at the institute, Old Man stood out from the rest.
Even in his old age, Old Man remained an alpha male in his colony. Come feeding time, Old Man was served a special cereal that he loved and that Buffenstein imported from South Africa.
“He'd wrap his body around the bowl and eat until he was full,” she said. “The other rats would wait until he was finished before they ate.”
He also continued to mate with the colony's breeding female right to the end. About the only outward sign of his advancing age was the sarcopenia, or loss of muscle mass, he developed about five years ago.
Tissue samples will be studied to determine the cause of death. Buffenstein is sure of one thing -it wasn't cancer. Link -Thanks, Richard Marini!
(Image credit: Helen L. Montoya)