Study Shows Some Genes Activate After Death

mouse dna
Science & Medicine

According to a new study, life does go on after death, at least for your genes. For some animals, their genes may remain turned on for up to four days after death. This discovery can be used to help in preserving organs for transplants and determining when a victim of a murder was killed.

Scientists have even discovered that genes associated with creating an embryo and cancer can actually turn on and remain increasingly-active after death.

Professor Peter Noble, of Washington University in Seattle said of the study, “We can probably get a lot of information about life by studying death.”

Originally, scientists believed that the genes would slowly deactivate after death until they stopped altogether. However, they were surprised to learn that instead, many of the genes became much more active.

Although human cadavers have been studied previously, for this experiment, zebrafish and mice were the subject of study. They found that in zebrafish, some genes remained active for up to 4 days after death, while mice had activity for up to 2 days after death.


Noble stated that he was most surprised to find that developmental genes were activated after death. These genes, which work in forming an embryo are not used after birth. However, research finds that they are used immediately after death because cellular conditions of recently deceased animals are very similar to that of embryos.

The team also found that the genes that spread cancer become active after death. Noble says that people who receive transplants are more likely to develop cancer, and this may be a root cause.

Molecular pharmacologist Ashim Malhotra of Pacific University, who did not participate in the study, stated, “It is important to understand what happens to organs after a person dies, especially if we are going to transplant them.”

Researchers say that there is potential for measuring the gene activity of a recently deceased person in order to accurately gauge the quality of a transplant.

However, scientists did remark that the zebrafish and mice have no real use for genes turning on after death. It is possible, they theorize, that these genes turn on simply because the bodily mechanisms that have been suppressing them have turned off.


The Independent

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