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Open Access Publications from the University of California

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

  • Author(s): Metcalf, JL
  • Parfrey, LW
  • Gonzalez, A
  • Lauber, CL
  • Knights, D
  • Ackermann, G
  • Humphrey, GC
  • Gebert, MJ
  • Van Treuren, W
  • Berg-Lyons, D
  • Keepers, K
  • Guo, Y
  • Bullard, J
  • Fierer, N
  • Carter, DO
  • Knight, R
  • et al.

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. © Metcalf et al.

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