Microbes Can Help Forensic Scientists To Find Death Time Of Victim

Posted: Dec 11 2015, 7:19am CST | by , Updated: Dec 12 2015, 12:53pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

Microbes Can Help Forensic Scientists to Find Death Time of Victim
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  • Changing Bacterial Populations in Decomposing Cadavers are an Excellent Forensic Tool

It has been found that changing bacterial populations in decomposing cadavers are an excellent forensic tool.

A novel study led by the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of California, San Diego proves that microbial activity in human cadavers are a clock of sorts for forensic science.

Many bacteria seem to show changes in a temporal manner in decomposing bodies. And they are as reliable as a clock in that they can be used to date the bodies.

The time of death and the location of the corpses at various times including where they were buried may be known via this methodology.

This discovery holds a lot in store for the future of forensics. Very tough instances of criminal cases may be solved using this method. A paper on the matter is being appeared in the journal Science on Dec. 10.

"We feel there is great promise that our findings could be used by forensic scientists," said Metcalf of CU-Boulder's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "We view it as potential method that could be used with other lines of evidence by investigators attempting to solve suspicious crimes."

25 researchers from 11 institutions participated in the study. A seven acre lab was the site of the experiment. Students, law enforcement officers and scientists as well as other medical staff were able to study the bodies under the supervision of the lab assistants.

Forensics has never been so scientific in its outlook. Furthermore, the decomposition of mice in three types of soil samples was also studied. These were desert-scape, prairie and alpine forest terrain.

The decomposing bacteria were pretty much the same in all three soil types. This came as a big surprise for the researchers. These microbes increase on the body only after death and before it they were available in scarcity.

The average human body harbors 100 trillion microbes. That is tenfold the number of cells in the body. These microbes help in the digestion of food and the functioning of the immune system.

Gene sequencing was employed to test the bacteria present on the decomposing bodies. To find patterns in the changeover of these microbes was the goal of the scientists.

The changes in the bacteria are a useful heuristic tool as the microbiome while a person is alive can predict what will happen later on after the death of the individual. Both in the mice and the human cadavers, the bacteria showed the time of the death of the once living organisms.

The error margin was very small indeed. The bodies also modified the soil bacteria. Presently a blowfly method is used in forensics. Since blowflies lay eggs on carrion, this has been the preferred method until now.

Decomposition is the ordinary process used in lending forensic clues. With this novel microbe technique, forensics will be revolutionized.

"Decomposition is a fundamental microbial function that plays a major role in how ecosystems work," said study co-author Sasha Reed at the U.S. Geological Survey in Moab, Utah.

"This research adds a novel perspective showing how microbes from very different environments assemble and function in similar ways that allow for the production of natural fertilizer."

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