London: Scientists have discovered certain genes in the star-nosed mole which may hold clues to beating chronic pain in humans suffering from conditions like arthritis.
The star-nosed mole has a bizarre snout fringed by 22 waggling tentacles that are highly sensitive to touch.
The tiny creature, native to North America, lives underground in almost total darkness and so relies on its nose to `see`, the `Daily Mail` reported.
Scientists at the University of California are now starting to unravel the secrets of its remarkable nose, in the hope of helping people whose bodies are extra-sensitive to pain and for whom current drugs offer little benefit.
A study of star-nosed moles caught in Pennsylvania pinpointed genes thought to be key to feeling touch and pain.
If the same mechanism is at play in the human body, it can be exploited to develop new treatments for persistent pain, researchers said.
"By studying the star-nosed mole, we have identified candidate genes that may mediate touch and pain," researcher Diana Bautista said.
"These genes represent new potential targets for the development of much-needed drugs and therapies to treat chronic pain," Bautista said.
Chronic pain often takes the form of headaches, back ache or neck pain and can be caused by an injury, cancer or arthritis.
The points of the star-nosed mole rapidly survey the floors and walls of its tunnels for tasty worms and grubs.
After hitting on a tasty morsel, the mole, which weighs less than a bag of sugar, takes just 230 milliseconds to decide if it is edible and gobble it down, it makes the creatures’ one of the fastest eaters on the planet.
The centre of its snout is particularly responsive to touch, with more than 100,000 nerve endings packed into an area one centimetre square, making it the most sensitive patch of mammalian skin known to man.
The study was published in the journal PLoS ONE.