Scientists Identify the Stench of Death

By James O Malley on at

Discretely disposing of the bodies of your enemies could be about to get slightly trickier, as scientists reckon they might have managed to identify the so-called "smell of death".

According to ScienceMag researchers writing in the journal PLOS ONE have identified the cocktail of chemicals emitted by human bodies after death. Which could now lead to either better trained cadaver dogs, or even computer devices capable of sniffing out stiffs.

The way it was done was by taking tissue samples and autopsied organs and putting them in sealed jars - and periodically taking air samples from each, and analysing the chemicals in each as the different parts decayed. The same was done for other animals including a rabbit, turtle and bird remains - but perhaps most importantly also a pig. Apparently pigs are pretty close to humans anatomically speaking, with similar microbes in their guts, and similar hair and body fats.

Ultimately, apparently 452 different organic compounds were identified - including eight in which the human remains were distinct from the pig.

However, some scientists are not entirely convinced by the study's utility just yet: ScienceMag quotes some casting doubt because the study only used individual body parts rather than entire corpses - so ultimately the chemical composition of the emissions could be rather different, and because the parts were in jars it perhaps overlooks different types of bacteria that would be present in a 'real' scenario - which would then influence how the body decomposes.

The scientists are already planning to address this though, with analytical chemist Eva Cuypers saying that “The next step in our research is to see whether the same compounds are found in buried, full decomposing bodies in the field and to see whether dogs trained on the mixture respond more specific[ally] to human decomposing bodies.” [ScienceMag]