Some stem cells can lay dormant for more than two weeks in a dead person and then be revived to divide into new, functioning cells, scientists revealed yesterday.
The research unlocks further knowledge about the versatility of these cells, touted as a future source to replenish damaged tissue.
The scientists, led by Fabrice Chretien of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said in a statement: 'Remarkably, skeletal muscle stem cells can survive for 17 days in humans and 16 days in mice post-mortem, well beyond the one to two days currently thought.'
Breakthrough: A fusion of several stem cells - or a myotube - obtained in vitro from a human muscle collected 17 days after an individual's death
The stem cells retained their ability to differentiate into perfectly functioning muscle cells, they found.
The researchers added: 'This discovery could form the basis of a new source, and more importantly new methods of conservation, for stem cells used to treat a number of pathologies.'
Stem cells are infant cells that develop into the specialised tissues of the body.
They have sparked great excitement as they offer hopes of rebuilding organs damaged by disease or accident.
The Pasteur Institute team found that to survive in adverse conditions, skeletal muscle stem cells lower their metabolism to enter a dormant state, using less energy.
Stem cells are infant cells that develop into the specialised tissues of the body. This is another image of a fusion of stem cells collected from a 17-day-old human corpse
The team then also looked at stem cells taken from bone marrow, where blood cells are produced.
These remained viable for four days after death in lab mice and retained their ability to reconstitute tissue after a bone marrow transplant.
The team said: 'By harvesting stem cells from the bone marrow of consenting donors post mortem, doctors could address to a certain extent the shortage of tissues and cells.'
The investigators sounded a word of caution, though.
The approach was 'highly promising', but required more testing and validation before it could be tested in humans.
The research is published in the journal Nature Communication.