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article imageForensic microbes work out time of death

By Tim Sandle     Dec 17, 2015 in Science
Working out the time of death is important for forensics. By looking at bacteria and fungi living in the soil beneath a decomposing body reveals the time, and even the place, of of death.
This grisly piece of forensic microbiology is based on a new study. Here researchers tracked cadaver microbes on and close by to dead mice and humans.
The results, summarized by Science News, revealed that as dead bodies decompose the same microorganisms are detected over time; that is at certain time points particularly species of microorganism are most likely to be recovered. Researchers are confident they can use the microorganisms to predict the time of death to within one day of accuracy of each month that the body has been dead for.
A combination of approaches was used to assess the microbial composition. These include microbial community characterization using metabolic techniques and soil biogeochemical assessment. For the research, a seven-acre outdoor human decomposition research laboratory was constructed. This was located in Huntsville, Texas, U.S.
Moreover, because the associated microorganisms remain in the soil even if the corpse is moved, this can provide information about where the place of death was. Here the type of soil was not as important as the types of microorganisms. Obviously, to help with this, some idea of the locale is needed. Nevertheless, taking samples and running laboratory tests is informative.
The research was led by Jessica Metcalf of the University of Colorado Boulder. Speaking with Phys.Org, Dr. Metcalf noted: “We feel there is great promise that our findings could be used by forensic scientists. We view it as potential method that could be used with other lines of evidence by investigators attempting to solve suspicious crimes."
The study is published in the journal Science. The paper is titled “Microbial community assembly and metabolic function during mammalian corpse decomposition.”
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