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Which are the last cells of the human body to die?


When somebody dies, which are the last surviving cells of his/her body? Those of hair, nails, or some other obscure but resilient cells?

Shedding light on why and how they are so vital might boost our knowledge of survival pathways.


They found live skeletal muscle stem cells in human corpses 17 days after death (LiveScience, 2012).

They isolated live stem cells from the bone marrow from human fingers 5 days after death and transformed them into cartilage, bone and fat cells (NewScientist, 2013).

The survived cells were in a dormant state with very little metabolic activity.


From what I have read, it looks like white blood cells have been found to survive the longest (up to 70 hours after death). This being said, I have also seen people who say that red blood cells would survive the longest because they do not need oxygen to survive (they have no mitochondria and thus do not do aerobic respiration). Since you seem to be interested in survival pathways, blood cells are probably not terribly useful. It seems that many transplantable organs like the kidneys can survive for up to an hour (provided that they are chilled to avoid cell death).


What cells in the human body live the longest?

Although the our bodies are continuously replenishing their cells, some stick around for longer than others.

On average, the cells in your body are replaced every 7 to 10 years. But those numbers hide a huge variability in lifespan across the different organs of the body.

Neutrophil cells (a type of white blood cell) might only last two days, while the cells in the middle of your eye lenses will last your entire life.

And it’s even possible that your brain cells might have longer maximum lifespans than you do. In 2013, researchers transplanted neurons from old mice into the brains of longer-lived rats and found that the cells were still healthy after living for two whole mouse lifespans!

Brain cells: 200+ years?

Eye lens cells: Lifetime

Egg cells: 50 years

Heart muscle cells: 40 years

Intestinal cells (excluding lining): 15.9 years

Skeletal muscle cells: 15.1 years

Fat cells: 8 years

Hematopoietic stem cells: 5 years

Liver cells: 10-16 months

Pancreas cells: 1 year

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Most of the cells in your body die many times in your life — here’s how often they regenerate

Chances are good you think you're more or less the same person you were last week. But the lining of your gut is totally different, and the hairs on your head are 2.5 millimeters longer.

The human body's ability to replace worn out cells with shiny new ones is key to the long lifespans we're so used to. There are a couple things we keep all our lives, like the visual cortex, but almost everything wears out and gets replaced, at least for part of our lives. And some things, like our hair and nails, just grow and grow and grow.

We've gathered together scientists' estimates scientists of how quickly we go through different types of cells. Many of these ages have been established using a technique called bomb-pulse dating, which uses the traces of atomic radiation we each carry to determine how old cells are.

Keep in mind: All of these are average numbers.

For everything that's regularly replaced, you'll be carrying a cells that are slightly older — and a lot that are younger, since cells are replaced on rotation not all at once. And these numbers represent total ages, so for example, an individual cell doesn't stay on the surface of your skin for over a month — its lifespan includes the time it takes to rise through all the skin layers.

But it's incredible to think an individual heart cell will spend decades powering your whole body.


Chris - There are lots of cells that you do replace on a minute-by-minute basis. There are other cells that you replace, never! In other words, they do have to last a lifetime. A good example of these are some of the brain cells. Although you can produce new brain cells during life, and that was a discovery made in the last 10 or 15 years, the vast majority of the brain cells that run your brain throughout your life, you have to make last a lifetime. One of the reasons why neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease are a problem is because once the nerve cells in certain parts of the brain die off, they're not replaced. So brain cells are a good example of a cell that lasts a lifetime.

Another one is some muscle cells. Let's take the heart as an example. Another reason why a heart attack is bad news is because when the heart is injured by a heart attack, there's an interruption of the blood flow to a territory of the heart so you will therefore lose muscle cells there, those cells in humans at least, and other high animals are not replaced. They are replaced instead by just fibrous tissue and scar tissue, so you lose physical muscle tissue, and this means the heart loses its ability to pump so well.

People used to think that fat cells were something that lasted a lifetime and that if you overfed the baby, the baby would make far too many fat cells when it was little, and this would be carried through the rest of its life and give it an increase risk of obesity. But in more recent years, there was a lady called Kirsty Spalding who's at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and she actually carbon dated fat cells, and found that they last about 12 years, and so, you make new ones on a roughly 12-year basis. So you make a fat cell, it will last an average of 12 years, then you can make more fat cells.

So the answer is, your body is a mixed bag. Some cells are made and they're killed off, and replaced very, very regularly, very, very rapidly, blood cells last 120 days for example, others do have to genuinely last you a lifetime.


How does blood survive outside the human body after being donated?

From what I can glean, it is cooled or frozen. Therefore, how does it remain unspoiled until it reenters a human body? Also, how long can it stay cooled or frozen before spoiling?

When blood is donated, once it passes testing, it is separated into its constituent parts: red blood cells (RBCs), platelets, and plasma.

According to the Red Cross, at 6 o C, RBCs can be kept up to 42 days.

The cold mainly slows metabolism, both of the RBCs and the microbes that would decompose them. RBCs are mainly carrier cells they have no nucleus and lack the other common internal cell structures to maximize space for hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen. Thus, they can survive much longer outside the body than most other cells because they don't require as much.


A viral entryway

To infect a human host, viruses must be able to gain entry into individual human cells. They use these cells' machinery to produce copies of themselves, which then spill out and spread to new cells.

On Feb. 19 in the journal Science, a research team led by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin described the tiny molecular key on SARS-CoV-2 that gives the virus entry into the cell. This key is called a spike protein, or S-protein. Last week, Zhou and his team described the rest of the puzzle: the structure of the ACE2 receptor protein (which is on the surfaces of respiratory cells) and how it and the spike protein interact. The researchers published their findings in the journal Science on March 4.

"If we think of the human body as a house and 2019-nCoV [another name for SARS-CoV-2] as a robber, then ACE2 would be the doorknob of the house's door. Once the S-protein grabs it, the virus can enter the house," Liang Tao, a researcher at Westlake University who was not involved in the new study, said in a statement.

Zhou and his team used a tool called cryo electron microscopy, which employs deeply frozen samples and electron beams to image the tiniest structures of biological molecules. The researchers found that the molecular bond between SARS-CoV-2's spike protein and ACE2 looks fairly similar to the binding pattern of the coronavirus that caused the outbreak of SARS in 2003. There are some differences, however, in the precise amino acids used to bind SARS-CoV-2 to that ACE2 receptor compared with the virus that causes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the researchers said.

"While some might consider the differences subtle," Gallagher said, "they might be meaningful with respect to the strength with which each of those viruses stick."

That "stickiness" could affect how easily a virus transmits from one person to another. If any given viral particle is more likely to enter a cell once it enters the human body, transmission of disease is more likely.

There are other coronaviruses that circulate regularly, causing upper respiratory infections that most people think of as the common cold. Those coronaviruses don't interact with the ACE2 receptor, Gallagher said, but rather, they get into the body using other receptors on human cells.


The Heart and Internal Organs

Different Cells in the Human Body

Movement of the heart, blood vessel walls and many body organs are also controlled by muscle. The heart pumps due to contraction of a unique type of muscle cell that is only located in the heart 2. Cardiac muscle cells pace themselves to contract the heart in a coordinated fashion, sending blood throughout the body without any conscious or deliberate input 2. Smooth muscle is composed of an involuntary type of muscle cell, meaning that it functions without purposeful control. Smooth muscle cells contract and relax as needed to enable organs to move, controlling functions such as:

  • digestion
  • breathing
  • swallowing
  • urinating
  • carrying blood throughout the body

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Interesting Human Blood Facts 31-35

31. We find pus kind of disgusting but it is actually nothing but white blood cells that died while defending our body against infections.

32. The only place where blood cannot be found in human body is the cornea (eye) because cornea is capable of directly extracting oxygen from air.

33. Supply of blood in blood vessels located in nose increases when someone catches cold. This happens to keep the nose warm. As a result of this blood vessels dilate and increase mucus production and leads to runny nose.

34. Scientists have come up with a method that can be used to send oxygen directly to blood without using the lungs.

35. Mosquitoes have an uncanny preference to the blood type they suck. They prefer blood group O more than other blood groups.


What Is a 24-Hour Virus?

When people have a mild illness—perhaps fever and an upset stomach, perhaps nausea and diarrhea—they often say they have a ∤-hour virus" or a "stomach virus." Many viruses can cause these kinds of symptoms, but there are many other possible causes as well, including bacterial infection or bacterial food poisoning. People usually recover from these brief or mild illnesses before doctors can do the tests that determine the causes. So a "stomach virus" may or may not be a virus at all.

Vaccines are useful only against certain kinds of viruses. For example, the polioviruses that cause poliomyelitis (polio), a great crippler of children in the past, are few in number and relatively stable. So it was possible in the 1950s to make a vaccine that protects children from getting polio (although the illness still occurs in the developing world where fewer children are vaccinated). On the other hand, influenza viruses change in minor ways every few years and in a major way about every ten years, so a flu vaccine is useful for only a year or two.

One reason a vaccine for the common cold has never been developed is that there are at least a hundred different rhinoviruses that cause colds, and so far it has not been possible to make a vaccine that works against all of them. A similar problem with HIV, which has many different and fast-changing strains (variations), is one of several reasons why progress toward an AIDS vaccine has been slow.