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Title: Forensic taphonomy : investigating the post mortem biochemical properties of cartilage and fungal succession as potential forensic tools
Author: Bolton, Shawna N.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5368 0855
Awarding Body: University of Wolverhampton
Current Institution: University of Wolverhampton
Date of Award: 2015
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Post mortem interval (PMI – the time elapsed since death and discovery) is important to medicolegal investigations. It helps to construct crucial time lines and assists with the identification of unknown persons by inclusion or exclusion of a suspect’s known movements. Accurate methodologies for establishing PMI are limited to about 48-hours. Such methods involve use of increasing levels of potassium in vitreous humour, and algor mortis. This study is two-fold. Firstly, it explores the biomolecular changes in degrading porcine cartilage buried in soil environments and its potential to determine PMI in the crucial two days to two months period. Trotters were interred in a number of graves at two distinct locations exhibiting dissimilar soil environments. Weekly disinterments (for 6 weeks) resulted in dissection for cartilage samples which were processed for protein immunoblot analyses and cell vitality assays. Results demonstrate that aggrecan, a major structural proteoglycan, produces high (230kDa) and low (38kDa) molecular weight cross-reactive polypeptides (CRPs) within cartilage extracellular matrix. The 230kDa CRP degrades in a reproducible manner irrespective of the different soil environments utilised. As PMI increases, aggrecan diminishes and degrades forming heterogeneous subpopulations with time. Immunodetection of aggrecan ceases when joint exposure to the soil environment occurs. At this time, aggrecan is metabolised by soil microbes. The molecular breakdown of cartilage proteoglycans has potential for use as a reliable indicator of PMI, irrespective of differing soil environments, beyond the 48-hours period. Likewise, vitality assays also demonstrated viable chondrocytes for as long as 35 PM days. The second component of this study examined the fungal activity associated with trotters buried below ground. Results indicate that fungal growth was considerably influenced by soil chemistry and changes in the environment. Fungal colonisation did not demonstrate temporal patterns of succession. The results of this study indicate that cartilage has the potential to prolong PMI determination well beyond the current 48- and 100-hour limitations posed by various other soft tissue methods. Moreover, the long-term post mortem viability of chondrocytes presents an opportunity to explore DNA extraction from these cells for the purpose of establishing a positive identification for unidentified remains. On the contrary, the growth and colonisation patterns of post putrefactive fungi in relation to decomposing porcine trotters proved to be futile for estimating PMI. Therefore, fungi may not be a suitable candidate for evaluating PMI during the early phase fungal activity.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: forensic science ; forensic taphonomy ; post mortem interval ; porcine ; cartilage ; soil environment ; aggrecan ; chondrocyte ; live/dead cell assay ; fungi