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Pig carcasses provide forensic clues

02 Feb, 2010

Source: Victoria University of Wellington

Decomposing pig carcasses could hold the key to determining time since death in forensic cases, Victoria University PhD graduate Rachel Parkinson believes.

The way human bodies decompose is not well understood, 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,” Dr Parkinson says.

Dr Parkinson examined how and when bacterial communities change during the course of decomposition of pig carcasses, using a variety of chemistry and molecular biology methods.

Three months working at the Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility also provided her with the opportunity 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,” she explains.

“The pig carcasses and human cadavers had very similar decomposition bacteria, suggesting that using pig models for human decomposition is a good option. This means a lot more research can be performed here in New Zealand.”

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