Do you believe in life after death? A new study suggests it is possible.
A team of international scientists looked into the gene expression of recently deceased animals, and found that several days post-mortem, some cells in their bodies are still fighting for their life.
Gene Expression After Death
Gene expression is the process when the information stored inside the DNA is synthesized into gene products, usually proteins and molecules, which are then converted into essential enzymes, hormones, and receptors.
The first step of gene expression, in which a portion of the DNA is copied into RNA, is known as gene transcription.
Using a gene meter technology, which was developed by University of Washington's Peter Noble, the lead author of the study, the researchers analyzed the gene transcription in 43 zebrafish frozen to death and in 20 mice whose necks were snapped.
'Not All Cells Are Dead'
The results were astounding.
The findings show that up to 96 hours postmortem for the zebrafish and 48 hours for the mice, there was a significant growth in the messenger RNA transcript profiles for at least 1,063 genes. Those most transcribed into RNA after death were genes linked to apoptosis, immunity, stress, inflammation, cancer, transport, and embryonic development.
"Not all cells are 'dead' when an organism dies," Noble explained to Seeker. "Different cell types have different life spans, generation times, and resilience to extreme stress. It is likely that some cells remain alive and are attempting to repair themselves, specifically stem cells," he continued.
Noble and his team believe the same phenomenon could be seen in all animals, even in humans.
The 'Twilight Of Death' Gene Transcription And Increased Cancer Risk
Eventually, an animal's body will decompose within hours up to days as part of the natural course of nature, and when that happens gene transcription will stop, Noble said. They refer to this window of time when gene expression happens but some cells are still active as the "twilight of death."
Although the study cannot bring the dead back to life, Nobel said that, aside from forensic purposes, it could also provide valuable insights into cancer.
Linking the "twilight of death" gene transcription to an increased cancer risk following an organ transplant from a donor who was deemed young and healthy before death, Noble added that the new information could be useful in screening transplant organs - including liver, kidney, or heart - for increased cancer gene transcripts.
"The increased transcripts might serve as 'biomarkers' for the 'health' of the organ destined to be transplanted - although more basic research is required," Nobel told MailOnline.
The full study is published in the journal Royal Society Open Biology.