Freezing skeletal muscle tissue does not affect its decomposition in soil: Evidence from temporal changes in tissue mass, microbial activity and soil chemistry based on excised samples

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Journal Article
Forensic Science International, 2009, 183 (1-3), pp. 6 - 13
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The study of decaying organisms and death assemblages is referred to as forensic taphonomy, or more simply the study of graves. This field is dominated by the fields of entomology, anthropology and archaeology. Forensic taphonomy also includes the study of the ecology and chemistry of the burial environment. Studies in forensic taphonomy often require the use of analogues for human cadavers or their component parts. These might include animal cadavers or skeletal muscle tissue. However, sufficient supplies of cadavers or analogues may require periodic freezing of test material prior to experimental inhumation in the soil. This study was carried out to ascertain the effect of freezing on skeletal muscle tissue prior to inhumation and decomposition in a soil environment under controlled laboratory conditions. Changes in soil chemistry were also measured. In order to test the impact of freezing, skeletal muscle tissue (Sus scrofa) was frozen (-20 °C) or refrigerated (4 °C). Portions of skeletal muscle tissue (∼1.5 g) were interred in microcosms (72 mm diameter × 120 mm height) containing sieved (2 mm) soil (sand) adjusted to 50% water holding capacity. The experiment had three treatments: control with no skeletal muscle tissue, microcosms containing frozen skeletal muscle tissue and those containing refrigerated tissue. The microcosms were destructively harvested at sequential periods of 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 23, 30 and 37 days after interment of skeletal muscle tissue. These harvests were replicated 6 times for each treatment. Microbial activity (carbon dioxide respiration) was monitored throughout the experiment. At harvest the skeletal muscle tissue was removed and the detritosphere soil was sampled for chemical analysis. Freezing was found to have no significant impact on decomposition or soil chemistry compared to unfrozen samples in the current study using skeletal muscle tissue. However, the interment of skeletal muscle tissue had a significant impact on the microbial activity (carbon dioxide respiration) and chemistry of the surrounding soil including: pH, electroconductivity, ammonium, nitrate, phosphate and potassium. This is the first laboratory controlled study to measure changes in inorganic chemistry in soil associated with the decomposition of skeletal muscle tissue in combination with microbial activity. © 2008.
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