There’s no accounting for taste, but it may be a good thing that some microbes are cadaver connoisseurs—their picky palates for flesh, aged to their exacting preferences, may help forensic detectives call a time of death in unsolved murders, a new study suggests.
Regardless of season, surroundings, and the species of the dead, communities of flesh-eating microbes seem to have a predictable timetable for when they dine on corpses, researchers report in Science. The new data allowed researchers to accurately estimate the time of death of mice and human corpses to within a two-to-four-day window, even after the bodies had decomposed for weeks.
Forensic scientists are eager to have new methods to determine time of death, Jessica Metcalf, lead study author and an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told Ars. Currently, there are no precise ways to determine how long ago a person died just given the corpse, she said. Some forensic scientists use the life cycle of blow flies, which seek out and lay eggs on corpses. But there’s a lot of variability between fly species and seasonal effects, she said.