Quirks & Quarks

These Crime Solvers are Real Pigs

Forensic experiments on sunken pigs show how bodies change underwater....
Forensic experiments on sunken pigs show how bodies change underwater.

Forensic scientists use submerged pig carcasses to help them understand the effects of water on the decomposition of human remains. Pigs are a good substitute for human bodies because they contain similar bacteria, their skin is the same and they can provide the same body size. But new research by Dr. Gail Anderson, a Professor and Co-Director of the Centre For Forensic Research at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, has found that the oxygen content of the water also plays an important role. Her experiment was conducted in B.C.'s Saanich Inlet, a body of water known for very low to almost zero oxygen levels. The carcass took longer to decompose when the level of oxygen was low because scavengers - including crab, shrimp and squat lobsters - find it stressful to survive in such conditions. This knowledge can help forensic scientists and criminologists in the search for human remains in similar conditions.

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