The devil is in the details: Variable impacts of season, BMI, sampling site temperature, and presence of insects on the post-mortem microbiome

Aaron M. Tarone, Allison E. Mann, Yan Zhang, Roxanne R. Zascavage, Elizabeth A. Mitchell, Edgar Morales, Travis W. Rusch, Michael Shane Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Post-mortem microbial communities are increasingly investigated as proxy evidence for a variety of factors of interest in forensic science. The reported predictive power of the microbial community to determine aspects of the individual’s post-mortem history (e.g., the post-mortem interval) varies substantially among published research. This observed variation is partially driven by the local environment or the individual themselves. In the current study, we investigated the impact of BMI, sex, insect activity, season, repeat sampling, decomposition time, and temperature on the microbial community sampled from donated human remains in San Marcos, TX using a high-throughput gene-fragment metabarcoding approach. Materials and methods: In the current study, we investigated the impact of BMI, sex, insect activity, season, repeat sampling, decomposition time, and temperature on the microbial community sampled from donated human remains in San Marcos, TX using a high-throughput gene-fragment metabarcoding approach. Results: We found that season, temperature at the sampling site, BMI, and sex had a significant effect on the post-mortem microbiome, the presence of insects has a homogenizing influence on the total bacterial community, and that community consistency from repeat sampling decreases as the decomposition process progresses. Moreover, we demonstrate the importance of temperature at the site of sampling on the abundance of important diagnostic taxa. Conclusion: The results of this study suggest that while the bacterial community or specific bacterial species may prove to be useful for forensic applications, a clearer understanding of the mechanisms underpinning microbial decomposition will greatly increase the utility of microbial evidence in forensic casework.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1064904
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Volume13
DOIs
StatePublished - 7 Dec 2022

Keywords

  • decomposition
  • forensic microbiology
  • metataxonomics
  • necrobiome
  • post-mortem microbiome

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