Current forensic tests use a person's core body temperature to determine their time of death, but it only works within roughly three days of death. Now researchers at the University of Salzburg in Austria say they've devised a new method that can figure out the exact time of death as many as 10 days later. Announcing their findings at the Society for Experimental Biology's annual conference in Prague this week, they tell the BBC they've been measuring how muscle proteins degrade in dead pigs (as well as 60 human tissue samples), and it "proved to be a very promising method."
The approach is "unorthodox," reports Medical Daily, but it could be a game changer, extending our ability to measure time of death from 36 to 240 hours using tissue that is plentiful throughout our bodies. Much work remains, but if they can sort out exactly which muscle proteins degrade at what speed after death, and whether factors like gender, body mass index, and environment play a role, forensic evidence could undergo a revolution. The team estimates that answering these questions will take three years, but one forensic pathologist cautions that there have been many "false dawns" in this search, and we'll have to be "very convinced that there are no confounding factors before we start relying on this to convict someone." (Check out which forensic approach used by the FBI turned out to be a disaster.)