Forensic scientists use oral bacteria to estimate time since death

The oral cavity is one of the most diverse microbiomes in the human body and is the second most complex in the body after the gastrointestinal tract.

By Amy Wallace

Aug. 1 (UPI) -- Scientists have developed a method to more accurately determine the time since a person's death by studying changes in their oral bacterial communities.

Researchers examined three donated cadavers, one male and two female, from the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center, and tested oral swab samples daily throughout the decomposition process.


Previous research has shown that the oral cavity and gastrointestinal tract microbiomes play a vital role in human decomposition. Researchers set out to monitor the microbiome of decaying bodies on a daily basis to identify signature bacterial taxa to improve postmortem interval estimation.

The study, published Aug. 1 in Molecular Oral Microbiology, found similar overall changes in bacterial taxa through the stages of decomposition.

"Microorganisms coexist with us during life, playing an important role in both health and disease. Upon death and as the decomposition process advances, bacterial communities change according to the newly set environmental conditions," Dr. Joe Adserias-Garriga, lead author of the Molecular Oral Microbiology study, said in a press release. "Our aim is to use those changes in the oral microbiome to estimate time since death."

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