Researchers at the University of Washington have found that genes can continue to function for days after death:
The researchers ended up identifying more than 1,000 genes that were still functioning even days after death, but it wasn’t like they were taking a bit longer to sputter out than the rest of the body — they actually increased their activity. In mice, 515 genes were seen kicking into gear, and were functioning at full capacity up to 24 hours after death. In the zebrafish, 548 genes retained their function for four whole days after the animals had died before showing any signs of winding down. […] What’s maybe even stranger than that is the fact that these ‘postmortem’ genes weren’t just any genes, they were the kind of genes that ramp up during emergencies. […] It’s not all beneficial genes, though. The team found that certain genes that promote cancer growth also sparked after death in these animals, prompting the researchers to suggest that in a newly deceased corpse, the body reverts to the cellular conditions of a rapidly developing embryo.
This could help us to better understand why transplant recipients reject organs harvested postmortem, as well as giving insight as to why transplant recipients are at greater risk of developing cancer.