Can the Presence and Proportion of Bacterial Communities Be Used to Estimate Post-Mortem Interval? A Critical Analysis
The use of bacterial communities to estimate post-mortem interval is a relatively new concept in the field of forensic anthropology, but one that shows great promise. Research has shown a correlation between the presence and proportion of bacterial communities within the microbiome of a deceased vertebrate and the post-mortem interval of that individual. Methodologies include analyzing and comparing relative abundance of different taxa during decomposition, as well as comparing the microbiome of the decomposing vertebrate to the surrounding soil during different phases of decomposition in skeletonized remains. However, this method of estimating time since death must undergo much more in-depth research before a forensic anthropologist could claim it as evidence with a “reasonable scientific certainty.” Challenges to this method include general knowledge of microbiomes, limited sample sizes thus far, and the impact of different environments and temperatures. Forensic anthropology is in need of new ways of estimating post-mortem interval and with further research the analysis of bacterial communities could become an essential method in the twenty-first century.