Metabolomics fingerprinting of the time of death


If you are a fan of CSI, or an eager reader of Agatha Christie, you will be very aware by now of the different methods used during a forensic investigation to determine the time of death of a cadaver. This has to be done based on factors such as rigor mortis, body core temperature, pharmacological excitability of the iris, or other evidence external to the body itself such as when the person was last seen. But… what happens if that is not enough to resolve a crime?

Pozhitkov and colleagues (2016) identified that at least 1,063 genes were still active after death, which are involved in different activities such as molecular transport, apoptosis, immunity and stress among others. Genetic activity influence many changes at the cellular level, which made quite likely that a metabolomics fingerprint of post-mortem biochemical activity could be detected.

We employed Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) metabolite fingerprinting to identify and characterise these potential changes in key organs. In total, 43 metabolites were associated with post-mortem changes. Early metabolomics modulations were associated with energy metabolism, while late metabolomics modulations could be linked with microbial metabolism.

This approach opens the doors to a new field of research, Thanatometabolomics (thanatos-, Greek defn. death). Advance in this area could enormously benefit forensic science, transplantation and molecular biology studies. To read more about the study click here.

By Marina Mora-Ortiz

Full citation:

Mora-Ortiz, M., Trichard, M., Oregioni, A., and Claus, S. 2019. Thanatometabolomics: introducing NMR-based metabolomics to identify metabolic biomarkers of the time of death. Metabolomics, DOI: 10.1007/s1130 6-019-1498-1