Establishing the volatile profile of pig carcasses as analogues for human decomposition during the early postmortem period

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Heliyon, 2016, 2 (2)
Issue Date:
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© 2016 The Authors. Following a mass disaster, it is important that victims are rapidly located as the chances of survival decrease greatly after approximately 48 h. Urban search and rescue (USAR) teams may use a range of tools to assist their efforts but detector dogs still remain one of the most effective search tools to locate victims of mass disasters. USAR teams can choose to deploy human scent dogs (trained to locate living victims) or human remains detection (HRD) dogs (trained to locate deceased victims). However, little is known about the variation between live human scent and postmortem human remains scent and the timeframe during which one type of scent transitions to the other. The aim of the current study was to measure the change in the scent profile of human decomposition analogues during the first 72 h postmortem by measuring the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that comprise the odour. Three pig carcasses (Sus scrofa domesticus L.) were placed on a soil surface and allowed to decompose under natural conditions. Decomposition odour was sampled frequently up to 75 h postmortem and analysed using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography - time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GC×GC-TOFMS). A total of 105 postmortem VOCs were identified during the early postmortem period. The VOC profile during the early postmortem period was highly dynamic, changing both hourly and daily. A transition period was observed after 43 h postmortem, where the VOC profile appeared to shift from a distinct antemortem odour to a more generalised postmortem odour. These findings are important in informing USAR teams and their use of detector dogs for disaster victim recovery.
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