Characterization of the volatile organic compounds present in the headspace of decomposing animal remains, and compared with human remains

Desert Research Institute, 2215 Raggio Parkway, Reno, NV 89512, USA.
Forensic science international (Impact Factor: 2.12). 03/2012; 220(1-3):118-25. DOI: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.02.007
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Human Remains Detection (HRD) dogs can be a useful tool to locate buried human remains because they rely on olfactory rather than visual cues. Trained specifically to locate deceased humans, it is widely believed that HRD dogs can differentiate animal remains from human remains. This study analyzed the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in the headspace above partially decomposed animal tissue samples and directly compared them with results published from human tissues using established solid-phase microextraction (SPME) and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) methods. Volatile organic compounds present in the headspace of four different animal tissue samples (bone, muscle, fat and skin) from each of cow, pig and chicken were identified and compared to published results from human samples. Although there were compounds common to both animal and human remains, the VOC signatures of each of the animal remains differed from those of humans. Of particular interest was the difference between pigs and humans, because in some countries HRD dogs are trained on pig remains rather than human remains. Pig VOC signatures were not found to be a subset of human; in addition to sharing only seven of thirty human-specific compounds, an additional nine unique VOCs were recorded from pig samples which were not present in human samples. The VOC signatures from chicken and human samples were most similar sharing the most compounds of the animals studied. Identifying VOCs that are unique to humans may be useful to develop human-specific training aids for HRD canines, and may eventually lead to an instrument that can detect clandestine human burial sites.

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