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Trace Evidence Potential in Postmortem Skin Microbiomes: From Death Scene to Morgue

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 64 Issue: 3 Dated: 2019 Pages: 791-798
Date Published
8 pages

Using microbiomes from 16 death scenes in the City and County of Honolulu, this study tested whether objects at the scenes could be linked to individual decedents.


Microbes can be used effectively as trace evidence, at least in research settings; however, it is unknown whether skin microbiomes change prior to autopsy and, if so, whether these changes interfere with linking objects to decedents. In the current study, postmortem skin microbiomes were stable during repeated sampling up to 60 hours postmortem and were similar to microbiomes of an antemortem population. Objects could be traced to decedents approximately 75 percent of the time, with smoking pipes and medical devices being especially accurate (100-percent match); house and car keys being poor (0 percent), and other objects, such as phones, being intermediate (~80 percent). These results show that microbes from objects at death scenes can be matched to individual decedents, indicating a new method of establishing associations and identifications. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2019