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The laboratory of Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov, a husband-and-wife team of biologists at the University of Rochester, has the feel of a petting zoo. They maintain colonies of several species of rodents — some familiar, like mice and guinea pigs, and some much more exotic, like blind mole rats from Israel and naked mole rats from East Africa.

Amusing children with furry creatures is not their goal, however. The biology of animals is mysteriously diverse, and lurking within it may be clues to new kinds of medicine.

Even the strangest creatures may hold a valuable surprise. And in the latest issue of the journal Nature, Dr. Gorbunova, Dr. Seluanov and their colleagues report a particularly fascinating surprise: Naked mole rats produce a unique compound that appears to block them from getting cancer.

The New York Times |