Gene Clock’s Ticking Pinpoints Time Of Death.
Forensic scientists may be able to work out almost exactly when a person died by analysing how the corpse’s genes are switched on and off, a study suggests. Death is not necessarily the end from a biological perspective. Hours and possibly even days after the brain cells have ceased to spark and the heart has stopped beating, cells in many parts of the body carry on winding up their business. The immune system, for example, takes a while to shut down as it closes the factories for white blood cells. Some types of cell appear to try to protect their machinery in a last-ditch defensive action. The cellular processes rely on instructions that are coded into DNA. Scientists in Spain and Portugal have discovered that by working backwards from the posthumous changes in gene activity, they can calculate the time of death with a fair degree of accuracy. The technique, which is described in the journal Nature Communications, involved analysis of a messenger molecule called RNA. The team found that death triggered a “cascade of transcriptional events” as the body went into a frenzy of genetic switch-flicking and dial-twiddling. Credit: Oliver Moody for The Times, 14 February 2018.
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