Postmortem Interval Estimation: New Approaches by the Analysis of Human Tissues and Microbial Communities’ Changes

Sara C. Zapico, Joe Adserias-Garriga

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


There are several methodologies available to estimate time since death based on different changes that a corpse undergoes after death. However, these methods are imprecise due to the decomposition process being affected by several factors, principally temperature and humidity. Current trends for the determination of the Postmortem Interval (PMI) attempt to estimate the PMI in a quantifiable manner, based on chemical changes on and in the body, summarized in the field of “thanatochemistry”. Although these methodologies have improved PMI estimates, additional research has been developed to increase the accuracy and precision of this determination. As a result, the fields of “thanatobiology” and “thanatomicrobiome” have emerged. Thanatobiology is based on the estimation of the PMI from DNA/RNA degradation, signaling pathways of cell death, and protein analysis. Thanatomicrobiome refers to changes in the bacterial communities as a consequence of the decomposition process. Although both approaches seem to improve PMI estimates, applications of thanatobiology methodologies are more appropriate in the first phases of decomposition, while thanatomicrobiome analyses are applicable in advanced stages. Further research is needed in these new fields in order to establish their applicability in forensic cases. This is a review of the current state-of-the-art methodology in these two subfields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-174
Number of pages12
JournalForensic Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics (miscellaneous)


  • bacterial communities
  • DNA
  • next generation sequencing technologies
  • postmortem interval
  • protein analysis
  • putrefaction
  • RNA


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