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“Spooky” Genes

“Spooky” Genes
July 10, 2017 Leela Maitreyi
Leela Maitreyi
In Uncategorized

Stay alive even after life ends…

Does death really mean the end? Great philosophers and thinkers have deliberated on this question for centuries. A recent research shows that at least one aspect of life continues: Genes! Genes remain turned on days after animals die. Researchers may be able to capitalise this postmortem activity into better and optimal ways of preserving organs for transplantation. Microbiologists at the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues wanted to test a new method they had developed for calibrating gene activity measurements. They analysed more than 1000 genes as part of a post mortem study in animals. The team measured which of these genes were functioning in tissues from recently deceased mice and zebrafish, tracking changes for 4 days in the fish and 2 days in the rodents.


Adult female zebrafish


At first, the obvious assumption by the researchers was that genes would shut down shortly after death, like the parts of an automobile that has run out of fuel. But what they found was exhilarating! Hundreds of genes instead upped their activity in the first 24 hours after the animals expired and then tapered off. In the fish however, some genes continued showing remarkable activity even after 4 days of death.


So what does such research achieve in reality?

The gene revelations were quite a shocker – they were developmental in nature, the kind one would expect to normally chisel an embryo and not quite needed after birth. One of the plausible reasons for their reawakening post death could be that some cellular conditions in newly dead resembled those in embryos. Several genes that promote cancer also became more active. That result
could explain why people who receive transplants from the recently deceased have a higher risk of cancer.

Its imperative to know and understand what happens to organs post death specially in situations where they are likely to be transplanted. Such a study could be used as a “Tool for predicting the quality of a transplant” and “Time of death prediction” and hence has a powerful forensic potential.

Thanatology isn’t after all just the study of death. It encapsulates the deeper scientific underpinnings of life and hence the “life” after it.