The clinical definition of physical death occurs when an individual’s heart stops beating and brain stops functioning, but what about other biological functions that still carry on after these two admittedly important processes cease? Medical science has long assumed that neurons degrade quickly after their supply of oxygen and nutrients are cut off, but a recent study on post-mortem cellular processes has upended these traditional notions of how long the body’s cellular processes continue after death, showing that some types of cells can be not only alive for days afterward, but some are also more active than when the individual was still alive and kicking.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, found that cellular processes in deceased mice and zebrafish continued for days after the animals’ deaths, for 48 hours for the mice and 96 hours for the zebrafish. The researchers found that gene transcription in the animals’ cells–where the DNA is being accessed to make messenger RNA copies to carry out cellular functions–were not only still occurring, but had actually increased for days afterward. Specifically, the genes being accessed the most were related to embryonic development, stress, and cancer.
"Although most genes decreased in expression, a certain percent actually increased," University of Washington microbiology professor Peter Noble explains. In all, 1,063 genes were identified as showing this increase in activity. "We were astounded that some gene appear to be upregulated in postmortem time."
Perhaps most surprising was the re-activation of genes related to embryogenesis, responsible for the formation of the organism as an embryo, and typically dormant in adult individuals. "It could be that the genome unwinds as DNA degrades through postmortem time, allowing access to sites [portions of the DNA] that have been previously silenced," Noble speculates. "But we don’t know." Additionally, the accessing of genes related to cancer could also offer an explanation as to why transplanted organs are more susceptible to contracting tumors.
While researchers are pluming the mysteries of what happens to the human body after death, Anne Strieber has communicated an important, yet beautiful, message from the beyond the veil, available in her and Whitley’s new book, The Afterlife Revolution.