Human Thanatomicrobiome Succession and Time Since Death Academic Article uri icon


  • The thanatomicrobiome (thanatos, Greek for death) is a relatively new term and is the study of the microbes colonizing the internal organs and orifices after death. Recent scientific breakthroughs in an initial study of the thanatomicrobiome have revealed that a majority of the microbes within the human body are the obligate anaerobes, Clostridium spp., in the internal postmortem microbial communities. We hypothesized that time-dependent changes in the thanatomicrobiome within internal organs can estimate the time of death as a human body decays. Here we report a cross-sectional study of the sampling of 27 human corpses from criminal cases with postmortem intervals between 3.5-240 hours. The impetus for examining microbial communities in different internal organs is to address the paucity of empirical data on thanatomicrobiomic succession caused by the limited access to these organs prior to death and a dearth of knowledge regarding the movement of microbes within remains. Our sequencing results of 16S rRNA gene amplicons of 27 postmortem samples from cadavers demonstrated statistically significant time-, organ-, and sex-dependent changes. These results suggest that comprehensive knowledge of the number and abundance of each organ's signature microorganisms could be useful to forensic microbiologists as a new source of data for estimating postmortem interval.

altmetric score

  • 18.83

author list (cited authors)

  • Javan, G. T., Finley, S. J., Can, I., Wilkinson, J. E., Hanson, J. D., & Tarone, A. M.

citation count

  • 61

publication date

  • September 2016