Research into how microbes degrade tissue is important for forensic research

Research into how microbes degrade tissue is important for forensic research

About the episode

We've all seen it in a crime series or movie: a forensic expert determines how long someone has been dead based on the bugs found on their body.

Thanks to new research in which scientists have for the first time mapped a network of about 20 species of microbes responsible for breaking down animal matter, it should soon be possible to do so more precisely.

We already understand the process behind the decomposition of plant material, something that occurs on a large scale in nature, much better. This research, which took years, provides important knowledge about how human matter decomposes outdoors.

For the study, they had 36 decomposing bodies in three different forensic institutes under different climate and soil conditions and during different seasons. During this process, skin and soil samples were studied.

This made it possible, among other things, to find out which microbes were present, how they got there and how they affected the process. To their surprise, they always found the same type, no matter the circumstances.

It turns out that they are not microbes that are already present in the soil or in our bodies. They all seem to be brought by insects.

Because the timing of when different species appear can be predicted so precisely, the researchers say they have developed a tool that can predict with much greater accuracy how long someone has been dead.

Read more about the research here: A pioneering study into decomposing microbes could help transform forensic science

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