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DNA Pulled From Maggots’ Guts Used to Identify Deceased Woman

Maggots that resided at the crime scene gave investigators a clue to the deceased's identiy

Maggots on a spider web. Photo: Kahunapule Michael Johnson

If you’ve spent any time with the range of forensic science or criminal investigation television shows that inhabit the airwaves these days, you’re likely familiar with the field of forensic entomology. When a body is exposed to the elements for long enough, different species of bugs will move in to what is, from their perspective, a new potential habitat. Different bugs arrive on the scene at different times and typically in a predictable order. By looking at what bugs have moved in, forensic scientists can estimate the time of the person’s death.

As New Scientist reports, however, scientists recently developed an entirely new use for these crime scene insects.

When Mexican police found a body in the woods it was burned beyond recognition, its DNA too damaged to be used for identification. Luckily, investigators were able to extract DNA from elsewhere – the digestive systems of maggots that had been feeding on the body. This is the first time that human DNA from a maggot gut has been analysed in this way to successfully identify a victim in a legal case.

By analyzing the DNA pulled from maggots that had taken up residency at the crime scene, the scientists were able to identify that the body belonged to a woman. Comparing the DNA with the father of an abducted woman, they were able to identify that it was in fact the man’s daughter.

More from Smithsonian.com:
New Forensics Tool for Catching Elephant Poachers

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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