Death is a process that eventually comes for all living things – but, just how the body succumbs is not the same for every organism.
In humans, a state known as rigor mortis sets in hours after passing, causing the body to stiffen up before ultimately relaxing again.
But for a species of roundworm, rigor mortis begins while the creature is still alive.
Scientists have captured footage of worms undergoing rigor mortis for the first time, uncovering new insight on the processes that occur as a multicellular organism dies – and, it could reveal clues on age-related death in humans.
According to the researchers from University College London, the discovery marks the first time rigor mortis has been observed in worms.
While death may be defined as the moment the heart ceases to beat or the brain no longer functions, the processes involved may begin long before this.
‘Cell death has been widely studied but much less is known about death of whole organisms, how it happens, what triggers it, and when it begins and ends,’ says Professor David Gems, from UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing.
‘But it’s extremely important for understanding fatal disease in humans, especially those caused by aging.’