Distinctive thanatomicrobiome signatures found in the blood and internal organs of humans

Academic Article


  • According to the Human Microbiome Project, 90% of the cells in a healthy adult body are microorganisms. What happens to these cells after human host death, defined here as the thanatomicrobiome (i.e., thanatos-, Greek defn., death), is not clear. To fill the void, we examined the thanatomicrobiome of the spleen, liver, brain, heart and blood of human cadavers. These organs are thought to be devoid of microorganisms in a healthy adult host. We report that the thanatomicrobiome was highly similar among organ tissues from the same cadaver but very different among the cadavers possibly due to differences in the elapsed time since death and/or environmental factors. Isolation of microbial DNA from cadavers is known to be a challenge. We compared the effectiveness of two methods by amplifying the 16S rRNA genes and sequencing the amplicons from four cadavers. Paired comparisons revealed that the conventional DNA extraction method (bead-beating in phenol/chloroform/bead-beating followed by ethanol precipitation) yielded more 16S rRNA amplicons (28 of 30 amplicons) than a second method (repeated cycles of heating/cooling followed by centrifugation to remove cellular debris) (19 of 30 amplicons). Shannon diversity index of the 16S rRNA genes revealed no significant difference by extraction method. The present report provides a proof of principle that the thanatomicrobiome may be an efficient biomarker to study postmortem transformations of cadavers. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.
  • Authors

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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Can I; Javan GT; Pozhitkov AE; Noble PA
  • Start Page

  • 1
  • End Page

  • 7
  • Volume

  • 106