A microbial clock provides an accurate estimate of the postmortem interval in a mouse model system

Jessica L. Metcalf, Laura Wegener Parfrey, Antonio Gonzalez, Christian L. Lauber, Dan Knights, Gail Ackermann, Gregory C. Humphrey, Matthew J. Gebert, Will Van Treuren, Donna Berg-Lyons, Kyle Keepers, Yan Guo, James Bullard, Noah Fierer, David O. Carter, Rob Knight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations

Abstract

Establishing the time since death is critical in every death investigation, yet existing techniques are susceptible to a range of errors and biases. For example, forensic entomology is widely used to assess the postmortem interval (PMI), but errors can range from days to months. Microbes may provide a novel method for estimating PMI that avoids many of these limitations. Here we show that postmortem microbial community changes are dramatic, measurable, and repeatable in a mouse model system, allowing PMI to be estimated within approximately 3 days over 48 days. Our results provide a detailed understanding of bacterial and microbial eukaryotic ecology within a decomposing corpse system and suggest that microbial community data can be developed into a forensic tool for estimating PMI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01104
JournaleLife
Volume2013
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 15 2013

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