Discovery of genes that come alive postmortem could redefine death

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Discovery of Genes That Come Alive Postmortem Could Redefine Death

Death may seem to cause all bodily processes to stop functioning, but new research has found that some of the body may remain alive for days afterwards.

According to New Scientist, researchers at the University of Washington discovered hundreds of genes in zebrafish and mice to be active after the animals died.

In fact, the team determined that a total of 1,063 genes between the two species underwent a noticeable change up to 96 hours after death.

And while other genetic material appeared to wind down, some of these materials seemed to become more energized from 30 minutes to 24 and 48 hours postmortem.

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Matthew Porteus, 51, professor of pediatrics at Stanford School of Medicine, holds test tubes of DNA to use for gene editing of stem cells at Lokey Stem Cell lab at Stanford University in Stanford Calif., on Dec. 18, 2015. (John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images)
Nobel laureate David Baltimore of CalTech speaks to reporters at the National Academy of Sciences international summit on the safety and ethics of human gene editing, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Washington. Alternating the promise of cures for intractable diseases with anxiety about designer babies and eugenics, hundreds of scientists and ethicists from around the world began debating the boundaries of a revolutionary technology to edit the human genetic code. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Matthew Porteus, 51, professor of pediatrics at Stanford School of Medicine, pipettes DNA to use for gene editing of stem cells at Lokey Stem Cell lab at Stanford University in Stanford Calif., on Dec. 18, 2015. (John Green/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images)
Graphic explains the CRISPR-Cas9 method of gene editing; 2c x 3 inches; 96.3 mm x 76 mm;
Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Germany, speaks on a panel at the National Academy of Sciences international summit on the safety and ethics of human gene editing in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
UC Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna speaks at the National Academy of Sciences international summit on the safety and ethics of human gene editing, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Washington. Alternating the promise of cures for intractable diseases with anxiety about designer babies and eugenics, hundreds of scientists and ethicists from around the world began debating the boundaries of a revolutionary technology to edit the human genetic code. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Jonathan Weissman, Ph.D., a professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, participates in a panel discussion at the National Academy of Sciences international summit on the safety and ethics of human gene editing, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Washington. Alternating the promise of cures for intractable diseases with anxiety about designer babies and eugenics, hundreds of scientists and ethicists from around the world began debating the boundaries of a revolutionary technology to edit the human genetic code. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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The engaged genes were related to specific processes like the regulation of stress, inflammation, immunity, and even cancer, among others.

While these functions could indicate an effort to rebalance the system, the researchers believe that they are more likely working to shut the body down.

Past studies have indicated that some human genes also seem to remain active for hours after a person has died.

The findings from the latest study could influence the way how human organ transplants are approached and how we define death, notes New Scientist.

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