Genes could record forensic clues to time of death | Science News

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Genes could record forensic clues to time of death

How our genetic machinery winds down may one day help solve criminal cases

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5:12pm, February 13, 2018
body in morgue

FORENSIC LENS  A new approach to determining a body’s time of death looks for patterns in genes that are active after death.

Dying, it turns out, is not like flipping a switch. Genes keep working for a while after a person dies, and scientists have used that activity in the lab to pinpoint time of death to within about nine minutes.

During the first 24 hours after death, genetic changes kick in across various human tissues, creating patterns of activity that can be used to roughly predict when someone died, researchers report February 13 in Nature Communications.

“This is really cool, just from a biological discovery standpoint,” says microbial ecologist Jennifer DeBruyn of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville who was not part of the study. “What do our cells do after we die, and what actually is death?”

What has become clear is that death isn’t the immediate end for genes. Some mouse and zebrafish genes

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