Halloween House of Horror: Zombie Microbiome

Zombie A corpse is far from dead when viewed as an ecosystem for microorganisms. Bacteria can take some credit for driving the natural process of human decomposition, but we know little about the diversity of bacterial species involved. Previous studies have been unfortunately limited to the traditional approach of culturing bacteria, whereas the vast majority of bacteria residing in the human body cannot actually be cultured experimentally.

To help address this problem, the authors of a new paper studied the decomposition of two human cadavers under natural conditions. They assessed bacterial biodiversity using a gene sequencing method of analyzing bacterial DNA, rather than relying on traditional culture methods. This sequencing method allowed them to measure bacterial genes present in any given region of the cadaver, giving them a high-throughput way of mapping out an entire microbial community at two different time points.

They found that these bacterial communities were different between the two bodies and between regions on the same body, and these communities changed over the time-course of decomposition. The authors suggest that bacterial communities may be following specific, changing patterns as a corpse moves through its natural stages of decomposition. This approach may be a valuable tool for further dissecting the role of bacteria in human decomposition.

“This study is the first to catalogue bacteria present internally at the onset and end of the bloat stage of human decomposition. Ultimately, we hope to come up with a cumulative systems approach to look at decomposition in a way that might complement existing forensic models at determining the post-mortem interval (time since death).”


The Living Dead: Bacterial Community Structure of a Cadaver at the Onset and End of the Bloat Stage of Decomposition. (2013) PLoS ONE 8(10): e77733. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0077733

Based on: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dm-set/3655136243/

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One Response to Halloween House of Horror: Zombie Microbiome

  1. Ed Rybicki says:

    The necrome!! Necromics – the study of cadaverous organisms…B-)

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