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

  • Author(s): Metcalf, Jessica L
  • Wegener Parfrey, Laura
  • Gonzalez, Antonio
  • Lauber, Christian L
  • Knights, Dan
  • Ackermann, Gail
  • Humphrey, Gregory C
  • Gebert, Matthew J
  • Van Treuren, Will
  • Berg-Lyons, Donna
  • Keepers, Kyle
  • Guo, Yan
  • Bullard, James
  • Fierer, Noah
  • Carter, David O
  • Knight, Rob
  • et al.
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. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01104.001.

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