Not a very exciting thought for many perhaps. But a New Zealand researcher has found there are striking similarities between pig and human carcasses, and both decompose the same way.
Understanding body decomposition could help determine time of death better, points out Rachel Parkinson, a student of the Victoria University, Wellington.
Advertisement"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," she said.
As part of her PhD research, Dr Parkinson used a variety of chemistry and molecular biology methods to explore how and when bacterial communities 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 bacterial species 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 decomposition 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.
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