‘Zombie’ genes in the brain get to work after you die

Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago find that death triggers increased activity in certain brain cells.

Credit: Dr. Jeffrey Loeb/UIC
  • While most brain cells do nothing or quickly degrade at death, others swing into high gear, sprouting long arms.
  • While you're alive, the cells are involved in inflammation.
  • Over the course of 24 hours after death, they get busier and busier.
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    As we approach death, our dreams offer comfort and reconciliation

    As patients approached death, many had dreams and visions of deceased loved ones.

    Credit: Amisha Nakhwa on Unsplash

    One of the most devastating elements of the coronavirus pandemic has been the inability to personally care for loved ones who have fallen ill.

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    Dark energy: The apocalyptic wild card of the universe

    Dr. Katie Mack explains what dark energy is and two ways it could one day destroy the universe.

    • The universe is expanding faster and faster. Whether this acceleration will end in a Big Rip or will reverse and contract into a Big Crunch is not yet understood, and neither is the invisible force causing that expansion: dark energy.
    • Physicist Dr. Katie Mack explains the difference between dark matter, dark energy, and phantom dark energy, and shares what scientists think the mysterious force is, its effect on space, and how, billions of years from now, it could cause peak cosmic destruction.
    • The Big Rip seems more probable than a Big Crunch at this point in time, but scientists still have much to learn before they can determine the ultimate fate of the universe. "If we figure out what [dark energy is] doing, if we figure out what it's made of, how it's going to change in the future, then we will have a much better idea for how the universe will end," says Mack.
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    How ‘heat death’ will destroy the universe

    The expansion of the universe is speeding up—contrary to what many physicists expected. A "heat death" is coming, but it's not what you think.

    • The expansion of the universe is accelerating as the force of dark energy wins out over the pull of all the universe's collective gravity.
    • As every object in space moves farther and farther away from all other objects in space, the universe will reach a state of maximum entropy, and 'heat death' will ensue. As astrophysicist Dr. Katie Mack points out, heat death is not actually a hot phenomenon—it's also known as the "Big Freeze."
    • Around 100 billion years from now, the universe will have expanded so much that distant galaxies won't be visible from Earth, even with high-powered telescopes. Stars will disappear in a trillion years and new stars will no longer form. The "good" news is that humans probably won't be around to witness the machine as it breaks down and dies.
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    Interventions in school years can prevent "deaths of despair"

    While most of these deaths are driven by external factors, interventions can still help prevent them.

    Credit: Daniel Reche from Pexels
    • A decades-long study suggests childhood interventions are effective against deaths of despair.
    • The students who had interventions went on to drink less, engage in less risky behavior, and reported less self-harm.
    • The findings suggest that similar programs have the potential to save countless lives.
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