One of the great mysteries of life is “what happens after we die?” There will likely never be answer to that question, but science is growing closer to figuring out what happens when we die. It turns out that death is a slower process than once perceived. Living organisms do not immediately switch from alive to dead all at once. Instead, new research out of University College London states that living cells shut down individually as a wave of death cell-killing acid spreads across the body.
The study, published in the latest issue of PLoS Biology, explains the complicated death-triggering mechanism that overtakes an organism upon its initial death. Scientist closely examined the biological changes of earthworms upon their deaths. Most notably, the dead worms took on a blue hue throughout their body. Scientists identified this blue hue as anthranillic acid, and now claim that this material is responsible for ending all living life at the cellular level.
David Gems, the leader of the study, explained the team’s findings. Gems said, “We’ve identified a chemical pathway of self-destruction that propagates cell death in worms, which we see as this glowing blue fluorescence traveling through the body. It’s like a blue grim reaper, tracking death as it spreads throughout the organism until all life is extinguished.”
Essentially, upon death, a few select cells secrete anthranillic acid as they shut down. This acid then targets nearby cells which similarly secrete the acid before death. This chain reaction continues across the host body until every cell is dead.
If this all sound like a bummer, cheer up: there’s good news! Now that scientists have discovered the biological stimulus for death, work can begin on ways to stop or counteract the spread of anthranillic acid. If scientists come upon a way to stop, or suppress the acid’s activity within a host body, they may develop new ways to prolong human life, as well as bring the recently dead back to life.