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The necrobiome is the community of organisms associated with a decaying corpse as described in 2013 by Benbow et al.[1][2] The term is often confused to be focused on only on the microbial component of the entire community of species that interact with a carcass, such as the insects and vertebrate scavengers. The process of decomposition is complex, and aside from microorganisms such as bacteria, other organisms help to decompose the cadaver including fungi, nematodes, and insects[3] as well as larger scavenger animals. The process of decomposition is fundamental to the cycle of life.[4]

As death ensues, the microbial ecosystem that lived off the living organism collapses and, nourished by the decomposition, a new and changing microbial ecosystem establishes itself. It has been noted that there is first a shift from aerobic to anaerobic bacteria leading to putrefaction and bloating.[4] A shift back to aerobic bacteria occurs in the abdominal cavity when it gets opened.[5] Bacteria come from the body as well as the environment.[6] It has been difficult to study the necrobiome as the vast majority of its bacteria do not grow well in the laboratory environment.[7] Our understanding of naturally occurring necrobiomes is further complicated by the fact that different portions of a corpse may be in different stages of decomposition.[7] However, the ability to apply advanced sequencing has helped researchers to investigate and monitor the necrobiome.[5]

The composition of the necrobiome appears to change in a predictable way representing “a microbial clock” [5]—apparently regardless of season, species, or soil type.[3] The speed of the decomposition is, however, temperature dependent.[4]

It has been suggested that the predictability of the sequence of changes of the necrobiome may be useful in forensics to help determine the time of death.[2][5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Benbow, M. E., Lewis, A. J., Tomberlin, J. K., & Pechal, J. L. (2013). Seasonal necrophagous insect community assembly during vertebrate carrion decomposition. Journal of Medical Entomology, 50(2), 440-450.
  2. ^ a b Christopher Intagliata (December 22, 2016). ""Necrobiome" Reveals a Corpse's Time of Death". Scientific American. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Ed Young (December 10, 2015). "Meet the Necrobiome: The Waves of Microbes That Will Eat Your Corpse". The Atlantic. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Mo Costandi (May 5, 2015). "Life after death: the science of human decomposition". The Guardian. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d Metcalf JL, Wegener Parfrey L, Gonzalez A, Lauber CL, Knights D, Ackermann G, Humphrey GC, Gebert MJ, Van Treuren W, Berg-Lyons D, Keepers K, Guo Y, Bullard J, Fierer N, Carter DO, Knight R (October 15, 2013). "A microbial clock provides an accurate estimate of the postmortem interval in a mouse model system". eLife. doi:10.7554/eLife.01104. PMID 24137541.
  6. ^ Ira Flatow with Jessica Metcalf and Jennifer Pechal (March 23, 2018). "After You Die, Your "Necrobiome" Lives On". Science Friday. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Chris Palmer (February 1, 2014). "The Necrobiome". The Scientist. Retrieved March 26, 2018.