Cells continue to function even after an individual dies.
That’s according to a scientific study published in Nature Communications.
Analysing post-mortem samples, an international team of scientists showed that some genes became more active after death.
As well as providing an important dataset for other scientists, they also hope that this can be developed into a forensic tool.
Inside the cells of our bodies, life plays out under the powerful influence of our genes; their outputs controlled by a range of internal and external triggers.
Understanding gene activity provides a perfect insight into what an individual cell, tissue or organ is doing, in health and in disease.
Genes are locked away in the DNA present in our cells and when these are switched on, a tell-tale molecule called an RNA transcript is made.
Some of the RNA directly controls processes that go on in the cell, but most of the RNA becomes the blueprint for proteins.
It’s the RNA transcripts that scientists often measure when they want to know what’s going on in our cells, and we call this analysis transcriptomics.
But obtaining samples for study isn’t an easy thing.
Blood is relatively easy to get, but lopping off an arm or sticking a needle into a living person’s heart or liver is no trivial undertaking.
So, scientists rely on a relatively abundant source of samples – tissues and organs removed after death.
Whilst studies of post-mortem samples can provide important insights into the body’s inner workings, it isn’t clear if these samples truly represent what goes on during life.
The other confounding factor is that samples are rarely taken immediately after death, instead a body is stored until post-mortem examination and sampling can take place and its impact is unclear.
And it’s this reliance on stored post-mortem samples that concerned Prof Roderic Guigó, a computational biologist based at