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Corpse-Eating Microbes Might Help Solve Murder Cases

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on December 16, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In what has got to be FindLaw's most morbid addition to the Technologist Blogs, scientists have authored a paper indicating that the consumption habits of microbes can be utilized to predict the time of death of a corpse. Interestingly, the bugs that will eventually eat you are already crawling on your skin, waiting in a specific order to dine on your flesh. And believe it or not, this little feature makes the business of "time-of-death" estimation much more accurate.

This could be the next big thing in murder mystery cases.

Old Concept, New Players

The practice of estimating times of death based on decomposition of a body by detectives and forensic scientists is well established. Within the community, it is well known that certain types of flies are only indigenous to certain regions, and they each need a specific amount of time to gestate from maggot to a different stage of development.

Only this time, the key players aren't bot-flies, they're microbes. Because the eating habits of particular microbes is much more particular, more accurate estimates with narrower error-allowances is possible. In fact, since criminologists and scientists are dealing with trillions of microbes (as opposed to perhaps hundreds of flies), geometric non-linear growth patterns theoretically allow for very accurate estimates indeed.

Controlling for Factors

The increased accuracy is owed to the fact that the bot-fly technique, while useful, is unfortunately susceptible to various factors like seasonality and soil. If these factors can be eliminated, then the estimates become more dependable. According to ArsTechnica, the data reveals that when the researchers tried mouse corpses on multiple types of dirt, the order in which the different microbes attacked the body remained pretty much the same. The result was also happily similar when it came to various temperatures, although with more variation. So far, more accurate than watching the development of maggots in the field.

Coming to a New Season of CSI?

This news probably will be of little interest to lawyers who cut their teeth on transactional work, but it should be of tremendous interest to prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers whose case may rest on the pinpointing a victim's time of death with accuracy. Who knows, the names you see on the paper linked above may be seen soon as expert witnesses on the effects of microbes eating human flesh.

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