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The human microbiome has demonstrated importance for health and functioning in living individuals. However the fate of the microbiome after death is poorly understood. In addition to a better understanding of microbe-mediated decomposition processes, postmortem succession of human-associated microbial communities has been suggested as a possible forensic tool for estimating time since death, or postmortem interval (PMI). The objective of our study was to document postmortem changes in human gut bacterial communities. Gut microflora were repeatedly sampled from the caeca of cadavers as they decayed under natural environmental conditions. 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing revealed that over time, bacterial richness significantly increased (rs = 0.449) while diversity decreased (rs = -0.701). The composition of gut bacterial communities changed in a similar manner over time towards a common decay community. OTUs belonging to Bacteroidales (Bacteroides, Parabacteroides) significantly declined while Clostridiales (Clostridium, Anaerosphaera) and the fly-associated Gammaproteobacteria Ignatzschineria and Wohlfahrtiimonas increased. A best fit multiple regression model, which included five OTUs, improved the ability to predict PMI (R2 = 0.824; p < 0.001). Our examination of human caeca microflora in decomposing cadavers adds to the growing literature on postmortem microbial communities, which will ultimately contribute to a better understanding of decomposition processes.
This is a submission to PeerJ for review.
Postmortem gut - mothur code for sequence processing
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