One of the most important tasks for forensic scientists after a body is found is to determine the exact time of death. This is key in piecing together the events that led up the death and is especially important when a crime is suspected. The typical signs of post-mortem change in human bodies are often extremely hard to read if a body has been submerged in water, making it even harder to determine the time of death.
New research from a team at Northumbria University, UK, has revealed a new method to calculate time of death of a body found in water, based on proteins found in bones. The team found that several common bone proteins underwent a chemical change called deamidation when a corpse was submerged in water. More importantly, they found that the longer a corpse was submerged in water, the more deamidation was taking place. They also showed that some types of water, such as pondwater, had a noticeably different impact on protein deamidation in bone after death.
These studies were performed in mice, and obviously must be replicated using human cadavers before the findings are translated into forensic practice. But they have identified some very promising biomarkers for determination of how long bodies have been submerged in water, and their chemical method can be replicated in other labs.