Pig carcasses could hold key to death puzzle

January 18, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- After five years of studying decomposing pig carcasses, Victoria University (New Zealand) graduate Rachel Parkinson could hold the key to determining the time since death in forensic cases.

"Human decomposition is a little-understood process and even less is known about the microbiology involved. My research aimed to investigate the bacterial species that decompose human bodies and determine whether they can tell us when that person died."

As part of her PhD research, Dr Parkinson allowed used a variety of chemistry and molecular biology methods to explore how and when change during the course of decomposition of pig carcasses.

She also spent three months in the United States at the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility, where she was able to work with human cadavers.

"This research showed that the bacteria from the body itself do a lot of the decomposing, with bacteria from the surrounding environment also playing a part. The pig carcasses and human cadavers had very similar decomposition bacteria, suggesting that using pig carcasses as models for human decomposition is a good option. This means a lot more research can be performed here in New Zealand."

Dr Parkinson says her research could have far-reaching implications for forensic post mortem investigations.

"By discovering that different are associated with different stages of decomposition, we now believe that the development of a forensic post mortem interval estimation tool based on bacterial succession is possible in the near future."

Having a better understanding of the complex process of will also help forensic investigators interpret death scenes more accurately.

Dr Parkinson is currently working at the Environmental Science Research (ESR) in another field of forensics, but says she is keen to further her research in this area.

Dr Parkinson, who received funding support from ESR and Victoria University, graduated last December with a degree in Biological Sciences. Her supervisors were Dr Jacqui Horswell and Dr Geoffrey Chambers.

Explore further: Officials in Bahamas rule out bird flu

Related Stories

Scientists create body decay ID system

January 18, 2007

U.S. scientists have created a system designed to help locate hidden burial sites and provide evidence that points to the victims' killers.

Study probes impact of CSI-style programming on jurors

September 24, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new psychological study from the University of Leicester aims to investigate how accurate people's perceptions about forensic science are, where these beliefs come from, and how this forensic awareness ...

Forensic chemists verify human remains from fat deposits

November 3, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- In the absence of evidence such as bones, clothing or strands of hair, forensic investigators can verify whether a body decomposed at a site indoors by looking for traces of lingering fat deposits, according ...

Recommended for you

New chemistry makes strong bonds weak

July 28, 2015

Researchers at Princeton have developed a new chemical reaction that breaks the strongest bond in a molecule instead of the weakest, completely reversing the norm for reactions in which bonds are evenly split to form reactive ...

Making polymers from a greenhouse gas

July 28, 2015

A future where power plants feed their carbon dioxide directly into an adjacent production facility instead of spewing it up a chimney and into the atmosphere is definitely possible, because CO2 isn't just an undesirable ...

New material opens possibilities for super-long-acting pills

July 28, 2015

Medical devices designed to reside in the stomach have a variety of applications, including prolonged drug delivery, electronic monitoring, and weight-loss intervention. However, these devices, often created with nondegradable ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.