03/23/2018

After You Die, Your “Necrobiome” Lives On

16:47 minutes

After death, your microbiome continues on as the necrobiome—all of the bacteria, insects, fungi, and other organisms that are involved in decomposition. And the types of bacteria that show up on the scene follow a rather predictable pattern.

Biologist Jessica Metcalf is studying this bacterial order to create a “microbial stopwatch” that could be used as a forensic tool to help medical examiners determine time of death. Entomologist Jennifer Pechal is part of a team that has created a database to study these postmortem bacteria, and she studies the blow flies, beetles, and other insect bio-recyclers involved in decomposition.

[Cape Town is less than 50 days away from Day Zero, when the city will run dry.]

Metcalf and Pechal introduce us to the ecosystem that takes over after death—and how they could provide clues to how a person lived and died. 

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Segment Guests

Jessica Metcalf

Jessica Metcalf is an assistant professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Jennifer Pechal

Jennifer Pechal is an assistant professor of Entomology at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

Meet the Producer

About Alexa Lim

Alexa Lim is a producer for Science Friday. Her favorite stories involve space, sound, and strange animal discoveries.

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