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'Zombie Genes' in Humans Come Alive and Grow Long Arm-like Appendages after Death

Zombie Genes identified in brain cells. 
(Credit: Twitter/ @Daily Express)

Zombie Genes identified in brain cells. (Credit: Twitter/ @Daily Express)

A new study has revealed some genes come alive shortly after one is dead and named them 'zombie genes'.

A new study has revealed some genes come alive shortly after one is dead and named them ‘zombie genes’. A team of researchers from the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) explains these zombie genes are inflammatory cells called glial cells. Observing activity in these genes in fresh brain tissues researchers found they grow long-arm like appendages hours after death. According to experts, these cells are responsible for cleaning things up after brain injuries like oxygen deprivation or stroke.

Dr Jeffrey Loeb, the John S. Garvin professor and head of neurology and rehabilitation at the UIC College of Medicine told Daily Mail while most studies suggest everything in the brain stops when the heart stops beating, but that is not the case. “Our findings will be needed to interpret research on human brain tissues. We just haven’t quantified these changes until now.”

In the study, which analysed fresh brain tissue collected during a standard brain surgery of a person with a neurological disorder, it was found that 80 per cent of the genes remained stable for 24 hours but a set of genes, called housekeeping genes tasked with providing cellular functions, were found to wake.

Another set, known to be present in neurons and involved with human brain activities like memory, thinking, seizure activity, degraded hours after death. These genes are used to study disorders like schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s,

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The third set of genes, known as ‘zombie genes’ were found to increase their activity at the same time the neuronal genes were ramping down. Loeb says through their findings they know “which genes and cell types are stable and which degrade and which increase over time so that reduce the magnitude of these changes.”

Earlier, in 2016, another study had found similar results in animals showing more than 1000 genes were active even after death, some of which woke up 24 hours after the death. Researchers at the University of Washington studied two lab animals, mice and zebrafish, to look for any signs of genetic activity and the team found evidence of activity in 1063 genes after analyzing the mRNA from both animals.

first published:March 24, 2021, 18:26 IST