Naked mole rats are supremely weird creatures — they don’t need much oxygen, and instead have seizures if they don’t get enough carbon dioxide, the chemical humans exhale when we breathe, researchers just found.The scientists found that the wrinkled rodents will even seek out areas that have been infused with the gas.
But why? Turns out, due to a genetic mutation, naked mole rats lack an important switch in their brains that helps to tamp down electrical activity in the organ, and thus, prevent seizures, according to a new study published today (April 30) in the journal Current Biology. This mutation might seem dangerous, but in reality, it allows the mole rat to conserve its precious energy stores. Rather than expending energy to operate the anti-seizure switch, the rodents rely on carbon dioxide to keep their brain activity in check.
“Carbon dioxide is really good at calming the brain down, if not shutting the brain down,” said study author Dan McCloskey, an associate professor of psychology at the Graduate Center of The City University of New York. McCloskey studies epilepsy, a neurological condition characterized by recurrent seizures, and thinks the study of naked mole rats could help to unravel mysteries surrounding the human medical condition.