Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 75–83 | Cite as

An interdisciplinary review of the thanatomicrobiome in human decomposition

  • Gulnaz T. JavanEmail author
  • Sheree J. Finley
  • Sari Tuomisto
  • Ashley Hall
  • M. Eric Benbow
  • DeEtta Mills


Death does not occur instantaneously and organs do not decompose at the same rate or in the same way. Nulligravid human uteri and prostate glands are the last internal organs to deteriorate during decomposition; however, the reason for this very important observation is still enigmatic. Recent studies have elucidated that the composition and abundance of microbes in the human thanatomicrobiome (microbiome of death) varies by organ and changes as a function of time and temperature. The ileocecal area has the largest absolute postmortem burden that spreads to the liver and spleen and continues to the heart and brain depending on the cause of death. To truly understand the mechanisms of microbial assembly during decomposition, a thorough examination of different strategies utilized by the trillions of microbes that colonize decaying tissues is needed from a multi-organ and multidisciplinary approach. In this review, we highlight interdisciplinary research and provide an overview of human decomposition investigations of thanatomicrobiomic changes in internal organs.


Human decomposition Internal organs Thanatomicrobiome Postmortem microbiome 



This review paper was supported by National Science Foundation HRD 1401075 and National Institute of Justice 2017-MU-MU-0042 grants.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and animal studies

The authors declare that no research involving human participants and/or animals was conducted in this review.

No identifying information about participants was used in this review.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Physical Sciences Department, Forensic Science ProgramAlabama State UniversityMontgomeryUSA
  2. 2.Faculty of Medicine and Life Sciences, Department of Forensic MedicineUniversity of TampereTampereFinland
  3. 3.Department of Biopharmaceutical SciencesUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.Department of Entomology and Department of Osteopathic MedicineMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  5. 5.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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