Sniffing Out the Time of Death

05 Oct

You’ve seen a paramecium before. It was that little football-shaped (actually a prolate spheroid) critter that you viewed under the microscope in high school biology class. These tiny creatures are covered with microscopic hair-like oars known as cilia, which they use to move around in water.


Similar cilia line your nose and airways. They help you remove inhaled dust and dirt from your lungs and nose. Apparently they continue moving, at a progressively slower rate, for up to 20 hours after death. Biagio Solaria and his colleagues at the University of Bari in Italy have studied this phenomenon and found that the this decline in mobility is predictable and observing the beating rate of cadaver cilia might provide an accurate time of death in the first 24 hours after death. They will report their results in the upcoming International Symposium on Advances in Legal Medicine in Frankfurt, Germany.

Since all methods for determining the time of death are fraught with inaccuracies, a new method is always welcome. Hopefully, this one will pan out.


Posted by on October 5, 2011 in General Forensics, Time of Death


8 responses to “Sniffing Out the Time of Death

  1. Laura Mitchell

    October 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    How would this be observed? Fiber optic scope?


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      October 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm

      No, they take nose scrapings and then view them under a microscope as the cilia are microscopic. Based on the degree of movement they can estimate the time since death—up to about 20 hours. Or so they say. We’ll see how it goes with further study.


      • Laura Mitchell

        October 6, 2011 at 8:14 am

        Ah, interesting. Since the cilia remain mobile, do they still trap airborne particulates?


      • D.P. Lyle, MD

        October 6, 2011 at 9:18 am

        They would except that since the person is dead there is no air movement.


  2. Fran Stewart

    October 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    As you learn more about it, will you keep us informed? I’m intrigued!


  3. EEG

    October 5, 2011 at 6:15 pm

    great post, so interesting!!


  4. Marc Simon Pearson

    October 13, 2011 at 10:53 am

    This is very interesting, I think will follow this blog more regularly. I might get lots of inspiration for my forensic/crime novel from this (will do my own research and use my own words after the inspiration).
    Now to read, the back blogs!


  5. Diana Hockley

    October 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    It’s fascinating 🙂 Thank you for sharing!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: