Dynamics of the oral microbiota as a tool to estimate time since death
The oral cavity harbors one of the most diverse microbiomes in the human body. It has been shown to be the second most complex in the body after the gastrointestinal tract. Upon death, the indigenous microorganisms lead to the decomposition of the carcass. Therefore, the oral cavity and gastrointestinal tract microbiomes play a key role in human decomposition. The aim of the present study is to monitor the microbiome of decaying bodies on a daily basis and to identify signature bacterial taxa, that can improve postmortem interval estimation. Three individuals (one male and two female) donated to the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center for the W.M. Bass Donated Skeletal Collection were studied. Oral swab samples were taken daily throughout the different stages of cadaveric putrefaction. DNA was extracted and analyzed by next-generation sequencing techniques. The three cadavers showed similar overall successional changes during the decomposition process. Firmicutes and Actinobacteria are the predominant phyla in the fresh stage. The presence of Tenericutes corresponds to bloat stage. Firmicutes is the predominant phylum in advanced decay, but the Firmicutes community is a different one from the predominant Firmicutes of the fresh stage. This study depicts the thanatomicrobiome successional changes in the oral cavity, and highlights its potential use in forensic cases as a quantitative and objective approach to estimate postmortem interval, from an ecological rationale.