Scientists have finally discovered the smell of human death

Posted by | October 07, 2015 | cadavers, chemistry, death, humans, Science, Technology | No Comments


Scientists have been trying to distill the essence of human death in recent years, but this is not part of some Lovecraftian ritual. Researchers want to know exactly what chemical compounds a dead body produces so they can be detected better. If we truly understood what a dead human body smelled like, we could train cadaver dogs more thoroughly, and possibly even come up with a machine that could do it more efficiently. Now, researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium think they’ve got it narrowed down.Whenever a human or animal kicks the bucket, other organisms move in to do their thing. In a matter of hours, the decomposition process begins, and the smell going to be objectively terrible. Within this rank odor is the key to identifying human remains following a disaster. To test the decomposition products of a human body, researchers took samples from a human, pig, mouse, frog, pigeon, and other creatures. Over six months, these samples were tested to see what compounds were being produced by the decomposition process.


Analysis of the samples revealed 452 organic compounds. At first, it looked like sulfur-containing chemicals could differentiate species, but there was too much variation among individual samples, and these compounds ended up being fairly short lived anyway. It turned out to be esters that were the key. These come from decomposing animal fat, and eight of them only appear in pig and human remains. Five esters are only found in human corpses, making it possible to distinguish people and pigs based only on the presence of these compounds.

With these chemicals identified, it may be possible to refine the training for cadaver dogs. Training with these specific compounds will help them identify human remains compared to other creatures. If you’re going to create a machine for the same task, now we know what exactly that machine has to look for. Before that can happen, the next task is to test the research in real life to see if whole bodies produce the same combination of esters when they decompose.

Source: Science –

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