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Manner of death and demographic effects on microbial community composition in organs of the human cadaver

NCJ Number
Date Published
26 pages

This study finds nationality (geographic location of cadaver) to be a dominant predictor of cadaver microbiome composition and identifies cadaver-specific traits associated with microbial alpha- and beta diversity, as well as bacterial taxa that are differentially associated with these traits.


The authors of this study surveyed the microbiota (16S rRNA V4 amplicon sequencing) of 265 organ tissue samples including liver, blood, brain, heart, prostate, spleen and uterus from cadavers in Italy, Finland and the United States with confirmed manners of death comprising either accidental death, natural death, homicide, and suicide. The study found that geographic locality (i.e. nationality) had a strong effect on observed microbial composition. Differing PERMANOVA results between unweighted and weighted UniFrac (nearly inverse results) suggest that specific bacteria may be associated with ethnicity and age, but that these differences are negligible when taking into account the relative abundance of bacterial taxa; weighted UniFrac measures suggest that although taxonomic composition may not vary significantly between different manners of death, PMI, or BMI categories, the relative abundance of specific taxa vary significantly. Various tissues exhibit differential associations with bacteria, and prostate and uterus were substantially different compared to other organs. For example, in Italian cadavers, the bacteria MLE1-12 permeated nearly all tissues, except the prostate and uterus. Researchers identified specific bacterial ASVs as biomarkers of either natural or accidental death and suicide, but not for homicide. While the manner of death may have an impact on microbial associations, further investigation under more controlled conditions will be needed to validate whether these associations are predictive in forensic determinations. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2019