Characterization of volatile organic compounds from human analogue decomposition using thermal desorption coupled to comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography-time-of-flight mass spectrometry

ACS Publications
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Journal Article
Analytical Chemistry, 2013, 85 (2), pp. 998 - 1005
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Complex processes of decomposition produce a variety of chemicals as soft tissues, and their component parts are broken down. Among others, these decomposition byproducts include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) responsible for the odor of decomposition. Human remains detection (HRD) canines utilize this odor signature to locate human remains during police investigations and recovery missions in the event of a mass disaster. Currently, it is unknown what compounds or combinations of compounds are recognized by the HRD canines. Furthermore, a comprehensive decomposition VOC profile remains elusive. This is likely due to difficulties associated with the nontarget analysis of complex samples. In this study, cadaveric VOCs were collected from the decomposition headspace of pig carcasses and were further analyzed using thermal desorption coupled to comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TD-GC × GC-TOFMS). Along with an advanced data handling methodology, this approach allowed for enhanced characterization of these complex samples. The additional peak capacity of GC × GC, the spectral deconvolution algorithms applied to unskewed mass spectral data, and the use of a robust data mining strategy generated a characteristic profile of decomposition VOCs across the various stages of soft-tissue decomposition. The profile was comprised of numerous chemical families, particularly alcohols, carboxylic acids, aromatics, and sulfides. Characteristic compounds identified in this study, e.g., 1-butanol, 1-octen-3-ol, 2-and 3-methyl butanoic acid, hexanoic acid, octanal, indole, phenol, benzaldehyde, dimethyl disulfide, and trisulfide, are potential target compounds of decomposition odor. This approach will facilitate the comparison of complex odor profiles and produce a comprehensive VOC profile for decomposition.
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