GENES COME ALIVE FOLLOWING DEATH Recent research conducted by the University of Washington has shown that cellular activities do not cease following death. This effect is known as the ‘de facto Lazarus’ effect, in which genes which are linked to cancerous cells and embryonic development can be activated postmortem and thus these developmental genes may pave the way to a better understanding regarding what happens to organs after death, in order to improve means of transplanting organs. Research was carried out via investigation on recently deceased mice and zebra-fish for a time period of two to four days following death. The activity of more than 1,000 genes were analyzed in the tissues and it was uncovered that rather that the action of these genes faltering, an increase in activity was experienced instead. During this investigation, study coauthor and microbiologist Peter Noble, suggested that one ‘can probably get a lot of information about life by studying death.’ In the finding published in Science, the genes which are activated post-mortem are genes usually associated with cancerous tissue as well as genes which are involved in embryonic development. On the 11th of June, a preprint of this study was issued by bioRxiv. Moreover, studying “thanatotranscriptome” which is a coined term used in the description of the process by which genes are expressed after death, is derived from Greek, ‘thanatos’ signifying ‘death.’ Transcription levels increased after death, processes which were observed to surge following death include processes involved in immunity, inflammation, apoptosis, transport and development. The process by which such genes may have been triggered out of dormancy may be due to the removal of epigenetic silencing, which is the ability of a cell to monitor and hence prevent the expression of a particular gene. Thus via this study, the researchers were also able to predict the animal’s time of death with accuracy, which can hence be developed further in order to aid forensic studies. Moreover, measuring postmortem gene activity can also be used to monitor the quality of a target organ to be transplanted.
References 'Undead' genes come alive days after life ends. (2016). Retrieved June 27, 2016, from http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/06/undead-genescome-alive-days-after-life-ends Ernst, D. (n.d.). â€˜Undeadâ€™ genes activate days after life ends: Study. Retrieved June 27, 2016, from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jun/23/undead-genesactivate-days-after-life-ends-univers/ Hundreds of genes seen sparking to life two days after death. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2016, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/2094644-hundreds-of-genes-seensparking-to-life-two-days-after-death/