Examining the Potential Use of Fungi in Forensic Science

2019-08-02T19:13:39Z (GMT) by Rebecca F Lakatos

Forensic science has gained popularity in the last few decades. Many new techniques are being studied and implemented. It includes a wide range of scientific disciplines, such as entomology, physics and biology. An important improvement to forensic science is the development of different DNA techniques which are implemented during an investigation, making DNA a gold standard for forensics. Most of the time DNA is mentioned it is in terms of human DNA, but there are microscopic organisms with useful DNA. In the last decade, with the development of next-generation sequencing (NGS), studies focusing on bacterial communities have been published, but fungal communities have not been extensively studied.

For this project, the potential of fungi in forensic science was investigated through three different studies. Human flora was looked at by NGS from thirty-seven human bodies with differing post-mortem intervals (PMIs). The communities were analyzed statistically and quantitatively, resulting in unique operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and genera which were only present in certain PMIs, and in some which were present through the entire PMI time scale. These attributes can help, not only to give a better view on human mycoflora during decomposition, but they can also help in determining fungal signatures during decomposition. These signatures can help in a PMI determination. Moreover, swine carcasses – the model animals for human forensic studies – were investigated as well to create a checklist of fungal flora after five months of winter decomposition in the West Lafayette, Indiana area. Furthermore, due to the increased importance of wildlife forensics, a wildlife study was also conducted using four wildlife species (mute swan, red tailed hawk, river otter, bobcat). The fungal flora from these species were compared within species at the beginning of the study and at skeletonization stage to look at any indicator fungal species and to create a general checklist for wildlife studies in the West Lafayette, Indiana area for future studies. Additionally, the fungal communities were compared across species as well.