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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.

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  • $\begingroup$ Related question: biology.stackexchange.com/questions/7548/… $\endgroup$ – Roland May 2 '16 at 7:08
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    $\begingroup$ When you say 'vital' do you mean - 'hard to kill'? The most 'vital' cells in the usual sense of the word - 'important for life' - are probably heart muscle, nerve cells etc, and these are exactly the ones that will die first because they use so much energy. $\endgroup$ – Dermot Harnett May 2 '16 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ Neither hair nor nails are made from living cells. Also, which individual cells die last has nothing to do with how 'vital' they are. $\endgroup$ – Slawomir Andrzej Dziemborowicz Jul 31 '16 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Slawomir Andrzej Dziemborowicz I understand that several factor may play a role in determining how much a cell lasts after being its body dead (eg blood flow, oxygen reserves), but anyway it is conceivable that those cells lasting longer could have more protective mechanisms to overcome lack of oxygen and accumulation of toxic molecules. $\endgroup$ – Joe_74 Aug 1 '16 at 9:57
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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.

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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).

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Biology.SE! Answers are more likely to receive a favorable response if they include supporting references. ——— You may wish to consult the help pages for advice on how to provide effective answers: biology.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer. Thanks! 😊 $\endgroup$ – tyersome Aug 3 at 17:49

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