“What is death?” ask the researchers at the start of a new article in Cell Reports. A good question and one that we ponder, too.
But they had an advantage – they got to study life and death in the roundworm called C.elegans (pictured). In C. elegans, dying cells trigger the death of other cells by releasing calcium, leading to muscle hypercontraction and rigor mortis. It then passes to the intestine, where it triggers a wave of “blue death fluorescence”: you can this this in action here.
As the worms don’t have a circulatory system to get oxygen, rigor mortis starts in them when they are still alive. A death contraction in their heads drives their pharynx back into their gut, which triggers cell death.
Very different to how auntie Ada went.
Picture source: National Human Genome Research Institute