Animals have evolved to survive, and even thrive, in different environments. Genetic adaptations may have indirectly created phenotypes that also resulted in a longer lifespan. One example of this phenomenon is the preternaturally long-lived naked mole-rat. This strictly subterranean rodent tolerates hypoxia, hypercapnia, and soil-based toxins. Naked mole-rats also exhibit pronounced resistance to cancer and an attenuated decline of many physiological characteristics that often decline as mammals age. Elucidating mechanisms that give rise to their unique phenotypes will lead to better understanding of subterranean ecophysiology and biology of aging. Comparative genomics could be a useful tool in this regard. Since the publication of a naked mole-rat genome assembly in 2011, analyses of genomic and transcriptomic data have enabled a clearer understanding of mole-rat evolutionary history and suggested molecular pathways (e.g., NRF2-signaling activation and DNA damage repair mechanisms) that may explain the extraordinarily longevity and unique health traits of this species. However, careful scrutiny and re-analysis suggest that some identified features result from incorrect or imprecise annotation and assembly of the naked mole-rat genome: in addition, some of these conclusions (e.g., genes involved in cancer resistance and hairlessness) are rejected when the analysis includes additional, more closely related species. We describe how the combination of better study design, improved genomic sequencing techniques, and new bioinformatic and data analytical tools will improve comparative genomics and ultimately bridge the gap between traditional model and nonmodel organisms.
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