What Death Looks Like: A Fast-Spreading Wave

By Casey Chan on at

Dead is dead, some famous TV show about vacationing on an island once said. But how does dead, well, look? How do billions of cells shut off at once? An international team of researchers found that it comes in a wave. Death spreads through a special necrosis pathway that leaves dead cells as it passes through. A blue tornado of death.

In the roundworm above, you can see the blue fluorescent light travel go through its body over an hour and a half before the roundworm dies. The worms would glow blue if killed by heat, disease or freezing. In these worms, death came in a traveling blue light.

The researchers tried to delay death by binding proteins and "engineered nematodes with special mutations" to block the molecules and they were partially successful in delaying worm death by infection and freezing. However, if they did that with death by old age, it was not as successful. As it seems in this research, dead is dead.

Read more about the Blue Grim Reaper here. [Smithsonian Mag]