Xiaodong Fang:
Convergent and divergent adaptations of subterranean rodents

Date: 30-03-2015    Supervisor: Anders Krogh

Subterranean rodents comprise approximately 250 species that spend their entire lives in underground, unventilated tunnels, distributed along all continents except Australia and Antarctica. Subterranean rodents escape from predators and extreme climatic fluctuations in their underground habitats, but subject to various stressors such as darkness, oxygen deficiency, hypercapnia, food shortage and high infectivity. As representative of strictly subterraneans, the naked mole rat (NMR, Heterocephalus glaber), the Damaraland mole rat (DMR, Fukomys damarensis) and the blind mole rat (BMR, Spalax galili) have evolved convergent and divergent traits in many of their morphological, physiological, and/or behavioral characteristics, which facilitate their adaptions to a similar underground burrowing life style. For example, all these three rodents show degenerate visual acuity and advanced sensory systems in the dark; they display remarkable tolerance to a living environment with an excess of carbon dioxide and ammonia, but lack of oxygen; they exhibit extraordinarily long lives, and keep a fantastic resistance to cancer and other aging-associated diseases. In this study, we reported the genomic and transcriptomic information of DMR and BMR. By comparing the genomes and transcriptomes of subterranean rodents with that of their aboveground counterparts, we uncovered candidate molecular mechanisms of mammalian adaptation to subterranean environment. The extreme biological features of the NMR, BMR and DMR, coupled with the reported genetic information, will promote the utilization of subterranean animal models for biological and biomedical research in the fight against aging, cancer, stroke and other realted diseases.