Forensic Use of the Piracatinga Fish (Callophysius macropterus) to Locate and Identify Human Remains Retrieved From the Amazon River

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Abstract

Piracatinga (Callophysius macropterus) are a type of bottom feeder catfish encountered in the Amazon River and its tributaries. We report two cases in which human remains were first located based on a characteristic circular distortion of the surface of the river that the Piracatinga make while they feed. Human skin samples of one of the victims recovered from the Piracatinga digestive tract were subjected to mitochondrial DNA analysis that allowed identification of the body of Case 1; the family recognized body parts of Case 2. Importantly, the location of human body parts and their identification based on DNA analysis enabled the respective families to obtain a death certificate expeditiously in the absence of identifiable remains—a process that normally requires 5 years under current Brazilian law, and in the absence of closure, imposes severe emotional stress on the family of the deceased.

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