Summary

Scientists Caught 'Undead' Genes Coming Alive After Death

Jan 29, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

What really happens to us after death? Once a person stops breathing, and their heart ceases to pump blood, they're what doctors consider "clinically dead." On a biological level, the eventual decomposition of cells, organs, and brain tissue signal its final and irreversible stages.

But what if that's not actually the end? Two new studies claim that hundreds of genes actually kept expressing—and, in some cases, become more active—after death occurred. This came as a surprise to the researchers, because forensic pathologists have long suspected that gene activity degrades postmortem, which is why their rate of change is sometimes used to calculate time of death.

According to the lead author of both papers, microbiologist Peter Noble of the University of Washington, the discovery of "undead" genes could help to improve the preservation of organs destined for transplantation. The two studies are currently available on the pre-print server bioRxiv, and it's important to note that neither have undergone peer review yet.

Noble says his most recent research was inspired by a three-year-old study published in Forensic Science International that discovered a host of genes that remained active in human cadavers for up to 12 hours after death.

In order to investigate the unwinding of the genetic clock, in these latest studies, the team extracted and measured messenger RNA (mRNA) levels in the tissue of recently deceased mice and zebrafish. Since mRNA plays an important role in gene expression, higher levels of this molecule should indicate more genetic activity.

In one of the studies, Noble and his colleagues were able to describe more than 1,000 genes that stayed "alive" postmortem. A total of 515 mice genes continued to operate for up to two days, while 548 zebrafish genes remained functional for an entire four days after death.

"It's an experiment of curiosity to see what happens when you die," Noble told Science Magazine.

One of the most surprising findings, however, was that hundreds of genes actually fired up—boosting their activity—within the first 24 hours after the animals had died. Noble suspects that many of them might have been suppressed or shut off by a network of other genes when their host was alive, and only after death were they free to "reawaken."

The team also found that many of the genes that persisted postmortem are typically active during embryonic development, which led them to theorize that, on a cellular level, newly developing lifeforms might share a lot in common with degenerating corpses.

Other genes they identified were associated with promoting the growth of cancerous cells. These researchers believe the activation of cancer-related genes postmortem could partly explain why many transplant recipients are at higher risk of developing cancer after receiving a new organ, although this has long been attributed to the immunosuppressive drugs they're typically prescribed. A lot more research still needs to be done.

"Since our results show that the system has not reached equilibrium yet," one of the studies broadly speculates, "it would be interesting to address the following question: what would happen if we arrested the process of dying by providing nutrients and oxygen to tissues? It might be possible for cells to revert back to life or take some interesting path to differentiating into something new or lose differentiation altogether, such as in cancer."

In addition to offering potentially valuable new insights into the expiration of vital transplant organs, the researchers hope their findings can also be used by forensic scientists to more accurately pinpoint time of death, which is apparently harder than it sounds.

"The headline of this study is that we can probably get a lot of information about life by studying death," said Noble.

Unrepentant teen with a long list of offences is why some parents shouldn't breed

Nov 25, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

Ralph Wee Yi Kai, a 19-year-old Singaporean man, has pleaded guilty to eight charges on Nov. 25 during his plead guilty mention before District Judge May Mesenas.

The charges include consuming weed, causing unnecessary suffering to a frog, possessing imitation tobacco products, trespassing into the rhinoceros enclosure at the Singapore Zoo, and committing mischief by damaging property, reported CNA.

Another six charges will be considered during his sentencing.

Probation is "not realistic"

Wee pleaded guilty via video link from his place in remand, where he has been since Nov. 6.

The prosecution strongly objected to a probation suitability report, noting that Wee is "beyond the control of his parents, which renders probation unsuitable", according to CNA.

The prosecution asserted that probation "is not realistic" for Wee, based on his repeated offences and conduct in court.

They cited his "blatant disregard for rules", and urged for a reformative training suitability report instead.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Melissa Lee said Wee "has a tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol", which caused him to behave aggressively towards his parents.

He also "posed a risk" to them, which led him to be admitted to the Institute of Mental Health.

"Never expected it to come to this"

Wee's defence lawyer Shashi Nathan requested for the addition of a probation suitability report, according to CNA.

Shashi maintains that his family is able to supervise Wee, and added that his client "comes from a good family" who are "able to look after him".

He said that Wee was undergoing "a severe emotional crisis" when he committed his offences, and shared that the case has also affected Wee's family, especially after their home address was released to the press.

"While Ralph understands that what he did was wrong, he never expected it to come to this," said Shashi.

Difference between probation and reformative training

Wee was ordered to go though both assessments for a probation suitability report and a reformative training report, reported Yahoo News.

Offenders who undergo probation will not have a criminal record, while reformative training, which provides a more structured environment, results in a criminal record.

What Wee's lawyer said

Wee's lawyer said his client acted out after breaking up with his girlfriend, 18, who was the one who filmed the video of Wee backflipping in the zoo.

The defence lawyer, Shashi, said Wee spiralled into an emotional crisis as a result of his break-up.

Wee is homeschooled.

The court was told Wee saw a video of a man riding a giraffe and decided to make a video in the rhino enclosure, Yahoo News reported.

The ex-girlfriend had filmed the act and posted it on her private Snapchat account.

Wee posted it on his public TikTok account and a police report was made by a zoo personnel within the same day.

Wee removed the video when he was told to do so by the police, but reposted it on Dec. 18, before being told to remove it again, claiming he thought the video had been made private when he reposted it.

Wee had also included a link in his Instagram account biography to directed to a page selling t-shirts with the words "rhino ralph".

But he denied creating the merchandise profile.

He later removed the link.

Wee will return to court on Dec. 20 for his sentencing.

Timeline of events with updated details

Oct. 9, 2020, 2:40am: Allegedly committed an act of vandalism by hitting an information panel at a bus stop in Sixth Avenue, off Bukit Timah Road, causing S$900 in damage.

Allegedly caused damage to two cars -- S$2,800 to a Mercedes-Benz and more than S$1,600 to a BMW -- in nearby Sixth Crescent.

A taxi driver passing by reported him to the police, as Wee was standing in the middle of the road with a beer bottle in hand.

Dec. 16, 2020: Wee was placed on compulsory supervision for 60 months from Dec. 16. He was required to present himself for urine tests on each Tuesday and Thursday, but failed to turn up on four occasions.

He was placed on e-tagging during this period of time, after having been charged for his earlier offences.

He had to stay at home from 10pm to 6am as part of his bail conditions.

Dec. 17, 2020, 2.40pm: Accused of trespassing into the rhinoceros enclosure and taking a video.

Dec. 18, 2020: Reposted zoo video, despite taking it down earlier after being told to do so by the police. Told to remove video again.

Dec. 24, 2020: Accused of abusing a frog, which subsequently died, by hitting a ball against it on a foosball table, causing "unnecessary pain and suffering".

The incident allegedly took place at a Sentosa Cove property.

July 2021: First hauled to court and charged with two counts of mischief, as well as one count each of vandalism and criminal trespass.

Bail was then set at S$15,000.

Aug. 6, 2021: Allegedly consumed cannabis while out on bail. Arrested at his residence and two urine samples obtained tested positive for weed. S$15,000 bail revoked.

Sep. 14, 2021: Allegedly possessed an e-vaporiser and six e-cigarette pods at a ward in the Institute of Mental Health.

Three police officers showed up at IMH, where Wee was warded, to arrest him for failing to attend court.

He was admitted to IMH due to his drug and alcohol abuse, as had acted aggressively towards his parents when they demanded the drugs from him.

He was warded in IMH due to the risk he posed to his parents.

Oct. 13, 2021: Charged with one count of drug consumption while still in remand.

Bail raised to S$20,000 and Wee was released.

While out on second bail, Wee committed a string of offences, including cutting his electronic tag, according to ST, as well as not reporting for his urine tests on a few occasions, CNA reported.

The prosecution has called for an urgent bail review hearing to have Wee's second bail revoked for the alleged fresh offences.

Oct. 26, 2021: Allegedly cut a S$100 GPS ankle tag at an address on Leedon Road at about 12:10am.

Prior to this act, Wee was upset at his father, who had asked Wee to sleep early since he had to report for his urine test in the morning.

After arguing with his father, Wee decided to leave the house, and used pliers to cut off his e-tag before cycling to his friend’s house.

Upon discovering that Wee was missing, his father called the police.

The e-tag, worth S$100, was damaged and could no longer be used.

It was found in Wee’s house.

Oct. 28, 2021: Allegedly possessed an e-cigarette pod at the Leedon Road address.

Nov. 5, 2021: Warrant of arrest issued, as Wee could not wake up to attend court.

Nov. 6, 2021: Wee arrested.

Nov. 12, 2021: Slapped with four additional charges.

Nov. 25, 2021: Pleaded guilty to consuming weed, causing unnecessary suffering to a frog, possessing imitation tobacco products, trespassing into a rhino enclosure, and committing mischief by damaging property belonging to others.

Ordered to go though assessments for a probation suitability report and a reformative training report.