Su­per­hero or Su­per Weird?

Nury Vit­tachi in­ves­ti­gates a ro­dent with amaz­ing su­per­pow­ers

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - My Story -


on the edge of an­ni­hi­la­tion, take com­fort from the fact that some peo­ple are stay­ing fo­cused on the re­ally im­por­tant ques­tions of life, such as: What Su­per­hero Would You Be?

A dis­cus­sion of that ques­tion in a pre­vi­ous col­umn (March 2017) caused a mas­sive flood of emails, both of which in­cluded a link to as­ton­ish­ing re­cent find­ings about the naked mole rat, a phrase I am NOT us­ing as a metaphor for a cer­tain type of politi­cian, al­though I do un­der­stand how em­i­nently suit­able it is for that pur­pose. No, I am re­fer­ring to a lit­eral ro­dent of that name with “awe-in­spir­ing su­per­pow­ers”, ac­cord­ing to reader Jan­havi Shan.

First, naked mole rats don’t feel most types of pain so you can­not hurt

them. Tell them they have a stupid hair­cut or you don’t like their cook­ing and they go on smil­ing. Cool.

Sec­ond, naked mole rats are preter­nat­u­rally age-proof, like Jen­nifer Lopez. Af­ter a year or so, the av­er­age mouse is us­ing a Zim­mer frame and drop­ping its den­tures into its soup. But naked mole rats live for decades, equiv­a­lent to a hu­man liv­ing for 20 or 30 gen­er­a­tions. These crit­ters are the im­mor­tals of the ro­dent world, and must be might­ily an­noy­ing at wood­land din­ner par­ties: “Seems like yes­ter­day I was chat­ting with your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great …” [All guests exit.]

Third, naked mole rats have special cells that eat cancer cells. How­ever, get­ting dreaded diseases is one of a long list of hu­man char­ac­ter­is­tics that su­per­heroes don’t share. Su­per­folk also don’t go to toi­lets, get anx­i­ety-in­duced bloat­ing or faint at the sight of a black­head be­ing popped (read­ers, don’t pre­tend I’m the only one), etc.

Fourth, naked mole rats can al­ter their me­tab­o­lisms in emer­gen­cies, sur­viv­ing for up to 18 min­utes with­out oxy­gen by “ef­fec­tively be­com­ing plants”, re­searchers say. Not sure that’s all that amaz­ing, as ev­ery Fri­day night I find my­self sur­rounded by hu­mans who are ef­fec­tively be­com­ing veg­eta­bles, aided by the con­sump­tion of cer­tain pop­u­lar bev­er­ages.

So all in all, naked mole rat abil­i­ties get a mixed re­view as the ba­sis for su­per­pow­ers. The longevity thing is nice but not much use for a per­son in tights and a cape who fights bad guys: “You evil su­pervil­lains may have used your pow­ers to de­stroy the city, but I have a longer life ex­pectancy, so there.” Lacks drama.

But the one thing that to­tally dis­qual­i­fies it from be­ing part of a su­per­hero ori­gin story is that it looks hor­ri­ble. Pic­tures show crea­tures with pale, flabby, un­healthy-look­ing bodies, hor­ri­ble skin and bad teeth, re­mind­ing me of beach days spent with my mid­dle-aged male friends.

A col­league raised another is­sue: “Peo­ple might refuse to go to the movie, be­cause you can read the name as ‘Naked Mole Rat Man’ or as naked ‘Mole Rat Man’, ” she said.

I de­cided it was time to avoid that un­pleas­ant thought by ef­fec­tively be­com­ing a vegetable.


Af­ter a year or so, the av­er­age mouse is us­ing a Zim­mer frame and drop­ping its den­tures into its soup

Nury Vit­tachi is a Hong Kong-based au­thor. Read his blog at Mr­

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