Beneath your blind and wrinkled face, you know
There lies a hidden strength on which to draw;
You seethe and huddle in the ground below,
With toothy grin and pallid, grotesque maw.
So when we see your face we soon withdraw,
As pride and vanity cannot pertain
To something that has every outer flaw
Having a set of nerves that resist pain.
The hurt that our words bring is what you can’t explain.
This is a Spenserian stanza, inspired by recent research into some of the extraordinary attributes of the naked mole-rat. It has long been known that naked mole-rats are highly resistant to cancer, that they have a complete insensitivity to acid, and that they are impervious to certain types of pain (for example they can climb over hot chili peppers, an act that would be torment to other rodents). This new research has now managed to shed some light on how the naked mole-rats are resistant to certain types of pain.
Normally, in response to high temperatures (e.g. that which would cause scolding) a special type of receptor in our nervous system (the TrKA receptors) set off a series of chemical signals, which in turn cause us to register pain. Researchers found that the TrkA receptors of naked mole-rats were much less sensitive than those of other animals, which explains why they are so impervious to certain types of pain. The study also found that the pain threshold of naked mole-rats in their infancy is similar to that of newborn mice and that it is only in their adulthood that the pain sensors of the naked mole-rat dwindle by two-thirds compared to any other mammal. It is also worth noting that the naked mole-rat can live for up to 32 years!
Hopefully, future research can help to give an even greater insight into some of the superpowers of these remarkable creatures.
An audio version of the poem can be heard here.