A small part of us continues to live on days after we die as some of our genes start springing back into action hours after our death, a new study says.
Researchers at the University of Washington have revealed that more than 1,000 genes in the human body remain active post-mortem, continuously doing their tasks beyond 24 hours of apparent clinical death.
For years, biologists have wondered whether gene activity stops immediately or gradually after an organism dies. The discovery may not only help in providing better options for organ transplants, but also in understanding of the death process.
Active genes are normally transcribed by the cellular machinery in living cells. This creates a copy of the genetic instructions via the cellular messenger known as RNA. The number of mRNA found in circulation determines genes’ activity levels.
Mice and zebra fish were used as subjects to observe genetic activity in the experiments. Analyzing the mRNA from the deceased lab animals, researchers found activity in 1,063 genes.
The reports, published in a series of two studies in the journal Biorxiv, revealed that most of the genes became active about half an hour after the animals’ death. The rest of the genes then sprung into action 24 to 48 hours later.
Researchers noted that the genes that remained active were those tasked to keep the system functioning properly.
Above anything else, this post-mortem activity, however, is viewed as an organism’s way of shutting down its system.
“A step-wise shutdown occurs in organismal death that is manifested by the apparent upregulation of genes with various abundance maxima and durations,” the researchers explained in the papers.