Science Specials

Spooky Science. Do we all have ‘Zombie’ genes?

Happy Halloween y’all! 🎃🕸🕷

I know most of my blog raves about stem cells – which in my opinion are THE best cells out there! But as it’s Halloween I thought I would branch out a little and write a special post about some spooky science!

The Walking Dead is a huge TV hit and with Season 7 having started recently I thought there was no better place to start than a Halloween post about zombies! 🎃🕸🕷 Particularly a short post about a recent paper describing the existence of ‘zombie genes’ which could be in all of us and only become active after we die. (Scarily similar to what happens in The Walking Dead! – also despite my recent binges, I am still really behind, so no spoilers again please!)


It’s a pretty common question asked by many:

What happens to us after we die?

Now I’m not sure I believe that there is a life after death, but I do believe that the cells in our body do continue to live even if the person has died – otherwise things like organ donation would not be possible! But this group of scientists have shown that there is life after death at least in our cells as some genes appear to ‘wake up’ in the days after you have popped your clogs or gone to meet your maker!

Every cell in our body contains a copy of our DNA which holds the sequence that codes all our genes. But in order for these genes to take effect they need to be converted into proteins. Our DNA sequence is read and converted into a ‘message’ called messenger RNA or mRNA for short and where the mRNA travels to our cells’ protein making factories called ribosomes. So, this message is the intermediate stage between our DNA and protein synthesis and the key behind this ‘zombie gene’ discovery!

The conversion of DNA into mRNA and finally into protein is crucial to biology, and so it’s logical to think that when we die, this process stops too, but that is not the case! This study used zebrafish and mice to discover that the expression levels of several mRNA transcripts associated with over 500 different genes had increased days after death! And interestingly, not all of the genes ‘woke up’ at the same time (spooky! 🎃) – some reached their peak activity 24 hours after death, while others peaked a further day later or even up to 4 days after death!!

What is even 🕸 creepier 🕸 is that these genes are not just any genes, but ones that are ramped up during emergencies such as counteracting cellular stresses and stimulating inflammation. Some of these genes are involved in the formation of an embryo and then not heard of after….until now where they come 🕷 back to life 🕷 it appears!

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But what use is this discovery?

It is NOT evidence that we are on the brink of a zombie apocalypse! But, some scientists believe that it can help us more accurately predict time of death by analysing the levels of expression of these ‘zombie genes’ which could be crucial in the forensics and medical fields. It could aid in murder trials if we know more accurately how and when someone died and also help improve the success rates of organ transplants, for example.

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Now I am not saying that zombies exist or that we are all going to turn into zombies after we die! And not even the most ambitious of scientists will say that this discovery can ‘bring someone back from the dead’, but it appears there is some form of life after death – a genetic life after death!

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S.x

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P.S. BOO! Happy Halloween everyone! 🎃🕸🕷

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