Your Genes May Stay Alive After You Die

But only for a few days

Andersonville National Cemetery in Georgia

Andersonville National Cemetery in Georgia, Confederate prisoner-of-war camp during the American Civil War

Ken Lund/Flickr

Could our genes continue thriving even though we have passed on? A new animal study suggests that genes continue to work up to 48 hours after death.

The study, from the University of Washington, looked at mRNA levels in zebra fish and mice after they died, and compared them to pre-death levels. They found that while overall mRNA levels wound down, 548 zebrafish genes and 515 mouse genes showed activity spikes up to two days after death. The active genes included those associated with fetal development, stress, and cancer, among others. According to an article in New Scientist, the same process may occur in humans.

Why these genes wake up hours or days after death is uncertain. The New Scientist reports:

It is possible that many of the genes become active as part of physiological processes that aid healing or resuscitation after severe injury. For example, after death, some cells might have enough energy to kick-start genes involved in the inflammation process to protect against damage – just as they would if the body were alive.

These findings might have implications for organ transplants and even for determining a more precise time of death in humans.