Bone proteins may tell how long a corpse was swimming with the fishes

Ordinarily, when a dead body is found, the time of death can be estimated via insect activity or body temperature. Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply if the corpse is in the water. Now, though, a new study suggests that bone proteins could still provide at least part of the answer.

Led by Dr. Noemi Procopio, scientists at Britain’s University of Northumbria started by placing fresh mouse carcasses in bottles of salt water, pond water, tap water, or swimming pool-like chlorinated water. Some of the bodies were left in the bottles for a week, while others were kept in for three weeks – this simulated what forensic pathologists refer to as the post-mortem submerged interval (PMSI).

When proteins from the carcasses’ lower leg bones (tibias) were subsequently extracted and analyzed via mass spectrometry, it was found that in all types of water, levels of a protein known as fructose-bisphosphate aldolase A decreased at a consistent and predictable rate.

Given that the bones of submerged corpses are typically protected by being located deep within the body, and they’re less likely than other tissues to be consumed by scavengers, it is now hoped that the team’s findings could ultimately help police forces in their investigations. Of course, it should be noted that the protein levels wouldn’t necessarily indicate when a murder victim had been killed, but just how long their body had been in the water.

The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the Journal of Proteome Research.

Source: American Chemical Society

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