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ARS Home » Plains Area » College Station, Texas » Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center » Food and Feed Safety Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #298376

Title: Methodologies in forensic and decomposition microbiology

item SINGH, BANESHWAR - Virginia Commonwealth University
item Crippen, Tawni - Tc

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/1/2014
Publication Date: 3/1/2015
Publication URL:
Citation: Singh, B., Crippen, T.L. 2015. Methodologies in forensic and decomposition microbiology. In: Benbow, M.E., Tomberlin, J.K., editors. Forensic Entomology. New York, NY: CRC Press. p. 263-281.

Interpretive Summary: The study of the microbial communities found on decaying carcasses is called “decomposition microbiology.” This paper discusses new ideas and presents new approaches to study decomposition microbiology along with associated insects during the decay process. It is based on metagenomics, which uses genetic techniques and computer software programs (called bioinformatics programs) to look at and quantify the genetic content of an entire community of microbes together. The information obtained from these technologies is beginning to answer basic questions about decay and food web dynamics and will lead to a more thorough understanding of the decomposition process. Such an understanding offers promise for the development of new and unique assays to measure pathogen dispersal and to identify indicators that answer questions posed in forensic science.

Technical Abstract: Culturable microorganisms represent only 0.1-1% of the total microbial diversity of the biosphere. This has severely restricted the ability of scientists to study the microbial biodiversity associated with the decomposition of ephemeral resources in the past. Innovations in technology are bringing in a new analytical depth to the study of microbial ecology. Current, next-generation sequencing tools allow us to sequence and characterize the majority of microbes at the community level directly from the natural environment, thus bypassing the limitations of traditional microbiology. The microbial utilization and interface with insects that occur during the decay of vertebrate remains is an understudied area of decomposition ecology as well. Recent metagenomic studies have revealed enormous microbial diversity on carrion and associated insects, including a significant number of microbes not previously described. This chapter explores the analytical microbiological techniques used to explore the ecology of microbes involved in the decomposition of ephemeral resources and their interkingdom relationships with insects with application to forensic entomology.