A Novel Use for Entomology in Forensics

Many may have known or have heard about the use of maggots to determine the time of death. Basically, the species of maggot infesting the corpse can allow you to determine an approximate time of death when the person died more than 72 hours ago. A new study in The Journal of Forensic Science, however, documents how DNA recovered from maggots was used to identify a body for the first time. This marks a significant step forward in the use of DNA in solving criminal homicides.

Authorities discovered a badly burned body in a remote part of Mexico. Maggots extensively colonized both the face and neck. Circumstantial evidence, including a report by the girl’s father, pointed to the identity of the victim, but the remains were so badly decomposed that they could not be identified through conventional means. Scientists collected maggots from the victim’s corpse and extracted DNA from the gut of the maggots. Using a fairly standard polymerase chain reaction test, the scientists were able to identify pertinent traits used in paternity tests from the DNA of the victim and match it with the DNA of the victim’s father. The results showed a greater than 99% chance of identification.

As grisly as this study is, it shows the extent to which science can improve our ability to solve crimes. Although, to the CSI generation, DNA is often thought of a means for identification in homicides, this is a novel technique. Whereas these bodies were once too damaged for traditional identification, the scientists in this study produced a novel means for improving the viability of DNA genotype testing in identification of homicide victims. No doubt, this technique will eventually become useful to authorities around the world. Slowly but surely the ability of killers to hide the identity of their victims is being eroded by developments in forensic science. Now human beings have yet another use for maggots.

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