The analysis of the entomological and chemical decomposition of human remains to ultimately assess the viability of the domestic pig as a substitute in forensic applications

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Death investigations often rely on the minimum post mortem interval (minPMI) estimations provided by forensic entomologists. The models accepted by courts in Canada are not based on research involving humans but rather on a human substitute, the domestic pig. However, now that facilities for human decomposition research are opening, we are faced with the prospect that pigs may not be so similar to humans as originally thought. The purpose of this research is to analyze the entomological and chemical decomposition of human and pig remains to determine if the domestic pig is an appropriate substitute for humans in research applied to minPMI estimations. Two human (n=4, n=2) and one pig (n=2) study were performed in Sydney, Australia, while three pig (n=3, n=2, n=3) studies were performed in Oshawa, Ontario. The environmental conditions were monitored as well as the accumulated degree days (ADD), rates of decomposition, primary dipteran colonizers, and volatile organic compound (VOC) production. Domestic pigs in Oshawa, Ontario, had rates of decomposition that were highly alike. Rates of insect colonization were rapid, with little to no delay. The production of 5 known apneumones showed no significant difference (p < 0.05) between pigs. Human decomposition in Sydney yielded results with varied rates of decomposition and colonization – some with long pre-colonization intervals (Pre-CIs), which affected the rate of decomposition. It was noted that the donors with long Pre-CIs were likely to have been taking strong peri-mortem antibiotics due to their antemortem health conditions. These antibiotics could have affected the donor’s microbiome, killing the beneficial bacteria that produce apneumones. The domestic pigs observed in Sydney showed decompositions, colonizations and VOC productions more similar to the pigs in Ontario than to the humans in Sydney. Humans live differently than domestic pigs with varying diets, habits, body types, and medications that can influence their decomposition and colonization after death. Since this cannot be said for the domestic pig, it is recommended that the researching community aim to shift future research to human donors so that the data collected can be applied to human death investigations while considering comorbidities and how it affects insect colonization.
Forensic entomology, Human decomposition, Volatile organic compounds, Postmortem interval