Researchers have found that there are dormant genes in the human body that can be activated several hours or even days after death. However, why and how this happens remains a mystery.
“We really don’t know anything about what happens when you die,” says Peter Noble, a former professor at the University of Alabama.
A gene is a set of chemical instructions created from DNA that tell the body how to work. When a gene is activated, chemical instructions are transcribed by our RNA, and human cells begin to use this copied sequence as a framework for building complex molecules.
Noble and colleagues at the University of Washington tested a technique for measuring gene activity.
They used tissue from the recently deceased zebrafish. Scientists expected to see a steady decrease in new copies of genes that occurs as cell activity decreases. However, they noticed that approximately 1% of the genes came to life, as if the cells were preparing to build something.
Scientists attributed this to the error of the devices, but repeated experiments confirmed an impossible theory: genes became active several hours or even days after the death of the body.
Later, a group of researchers led by Roderick Guigo of the Barcelona Center for Genomic Regulation discovered posthumous gene activity in humans.
The authors of the study concluded that death is a more subtle process than previously thought. It does not mean that all billions of body cells stop working instantly.
Researchers cannot name the reason why genes are activated after death.