We may not be so different from zombies when we die, after all. A new study analyzing bacterial communities involved in the decomposition of corpses illustrates how a cadaver becomes a living, thriving ecosystem for microorganisms.
The study, published recently in PLOS ONE, reveals that the type of bacteria embroiled in human decomposition can change over time.
Researchers from Sam Houston State University and Baylor College of Medicine - both in Texas - say that until now, little has been known about the bacterial diversity involved in breaking down a corpse.
Decomposition stages and forensics
Dead, yet thriving: researchers investigated the bloat stage of decomposition to gain a better understanding of bacterial communities involved in the process.
Aaron Lynne, one of the lead authors, says: "This study is the first to catalogue bacteria present internally at the onset and end of the bloat stage of human decomposition. Ultimately, we hope to come up with a cumulative systems approach to look at decomposition in a way that might complement existing forensic models at determining the postmortem interval (time since death)."
The researchers add that although some of the species of bacteria observed in the cadavers were the same as those they had previously seen in culture-based-studies, many of them were new.
They conclude by noting that "a more comprehensive study is needed to further dissect the role of bacteria in human decomposition."