New forensics technique calculates exact time of death

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Determining the time of death isn’t an exact science, and it becomes less and less exact as time passes. But a new method, developed by researchers at the University of Salzburg, allows forensic scientists to calculate the precise time of death, even after 10 days.

“Improvement of methods to determine time of death is crucial to modern forensic science,” researchers wrote in an abstract describing their findings.

Previously, determining the exact time of death was an impossibility after 36 hours. But in examining the degradation of certain muscle-based proteins and enzymes in pigs, scientists have developed a new method for calculating the time of death. Testing shows the method to be precise for as long as 240 hours after death.

“It is highly likely that all muscle proteins undergo detectable changes at a certain point in time, and this would extend the currently analysed timeframe even further,” lead researcher Dr. Peter Steinbacher explained in a press release. “We were able to detect similar changes and exactly the same degradation products in human muscle tissue as we had in our pig study.”

Most forensic testing ignores muscle tissue. Steinbacher and his colleagues suggest this is a mistake. Muscle tissue is abundant and well studied. The proteins inside muscle tissues are well understood. Furthermore, the new muscle-based tests offer fast turnaround time, with results within a day.

The researchers presented their new method to attendees at this week’s annual Society for Experimental Biology meeting in Prague.

Read More: UPI