Detection of fatty acids in the lateral extent of the cadaver decomposition island

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Journal Article
Geological Society Special Publication, 2013, 384 (1), pp. 209 - 219
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Identifying biomarkers of decomposition may prove to be an important area of environmental and criminal forensics research. Biomarkers released during the decomposition process can be detected in soil as a means of confirming the presence of a decomposition site in the case of relocated or scavenged remains. This study was conducted to characterize the fatty acid profile in soil containing decomposition fluid and to determine the lateral extent of fatty acid release in the cadaver decomposition island (CDI). Owing to practical and ethical restrictions, the study utilized pig carcasses as human analogues to investigate postmortem decomposition on a soil surface. Soil samples were collected from directly beneath the carcasses and at increasing distances from the carcasses within the CDI. Fatty acids were extracted with chloroform, derivatized with a silylating agent and analysed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS). Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids were detected including myristic (C14:0), palmitic (C16:0), palmitoleic (C16:1), stearic (C18:0) and oleic (C18:1) acids. Fatty acids were detected up to 50 cm in the lateral extent of the CDI at significantly higher levels in decomposition soil than in the control soil. The results indicate that fatty acid analysis of decomposition soil could be used to confirm the location of a decomposition site. © The Geological Society of London 2013.
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