How fast does death travel on a cellular level?

The speed of death isn't as instantaneous as you may think.

Death! It happens to all of us. To some of us, it happens more than once. And scientists at Stanford University have now been able to figure out just how fast it happens on a cellular level. 


In order to study this, researchers took cytoplasm from frog eggs and placed it in a tube. The cytoplasm was picked as its full of proteins, which were visible as bright green globs. The researchers then placed an extract from a cell that had recently undergone programmed cell death at the far end of the tube and measured how quickly it spread. The cells basically self-destructed, started by a "trigger wave" which then spread at roughly at 2mm an hour or 30 micro-centimeters a minute

As death spread, the green globs died out. Interestingly, according to New Scientist, the self-destruction part occurred much faster than the extract itself moved. 

Death moving a lot faster than 2mm an hour in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, 1991, Orion Pictures. 

Programmed cell death is a little bit more complex than what you might think of as "instant death", i.e. thinking of life like a light-switch, and it happens way more often than you might think. Look at your hands and you're actually looking at the result of programmed cell death that happened long ago in the womb. Towards the end of the first trimester, the cells that hold the hand together separate—otherwise, we'd be web-handed. It can also occur in cancer

I'll fully admit I'm massively paraphrasing this whole study for brevity—feel free to read the full study here and a particularly dry Wikipedia page on cell death here

Related Articles

To save us, half of Earth needs to be given to animals

We're more dependent on them than we realize.

(Photo Lily on Unsplash)
Surprising Science
  • Scientists says our survival depends on biodiversity.
  • A natural climate strategy we often forget.
  • Seeing our place among the Earth's living creatures.
Keep reading Show less

New infographics show how cigarette smokers are socially penalized

There's a high social cost that comes with lighting up.

(Porch)
Sex & Relationships
  • The home improvement company Porch recently polled 1,009 people on their feelings about smoking.
  • The company recently published the results as infographics.
  • In terms of dating, 80 percent of nonsmokers find the habit a turnoff
Keep reading Show less

The "catch" to being on the keto diet

While short-term results are positive, there is mounting evidence against staying in ketosis for too long.

Brendan Hoffman / Getty
Surprising Science
  • Recent studies showed volunteers lost equal or more weight on high-carb, calorie-restricted diets than low-carb, calorie restricted diets.
  • There might be positive benefits to short-term usage of a ketogenic diet.
  • One dietician warns that the ketogenic diet could put diabetics at risk for diabetic ketoacidosis.
Keep reading Show less