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Expression After Death

Instead of everything winding down after death, Discover's The Crux blog writes that the expression of some genes ramp up after an organism dies.

The University of Washington's Peter Noble and his colleagues reported in 2017 in Open Biology that about a thousand gene transcripts became more abundant after death in organisms like mouse and zebrafish. The expression of some of these genes increased shortly after death, while others increased a day or even two after death. Most of these genes, Noble and his colleagues found, were involved in stress, immunity, and apoptosis, among other processes.

But as The Crux notes, these "findings were met with skepticism" until a team at Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona also uncovered evidence of postmortem gene expression changes, this time in humans. They were studying the effect of the post-mortem interval on the transcriptome, as they reported in Nature Communications, and noticed that changes in gene expression that took place after death appeared to be actively regulated.

But just why this happens is unclear, The Crux says. "Death doesn't mean that all the billions of cells in our bodies stop working, it just means that they stop working together," it writes. "The hours and days during which these connections fall apart and life fizzles out are a new frontier for science."