The ecological clean-up crew that breaks down dead bodies features several of the same species, and tend to always follow the same routine – regardless of location, climate or season, new research shows.
"These findings may contribute to society by providing potential for a new forensic tool," write the study authors, led by microbial ecologists Jessica Metcalf and Zachary Burcham from Colorado State University.
Decomposers – mainly bacteria and fungi – are trying to eat us all the time, but our immune system, skin barrier, hygiene practices and beneficial microbiome usually kick them out – at least, while we're still alive.
Of course, you can't just leave human bodies lying around anywhere. This kind of research unfolds at 'body farms' (aka human decomposition facilities), where postmortem investigations can be done in relative peace, without anyone tripping over a deceased donor.
In this case, the researchers laid 36 human bodies out in the elements, each body being donated to science by individual before their death.