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Byard R.W.,Forensic Science SA | Byard R.W.,University of Adelaide
Journal of Forensic Sciences | Year: 2010

Traditional herbal substances may contain highly toxic chemicals and heavy metals, in addition to naturally occurring organic toxins. These substances may cause illness, exacerbate pre-existing ill health or result in death, particularly if taken in excess or in an unusual manner (e.g., injected rather than ingested). Lack of regulation of the content and quality of herbal medicines may result in contamination and adulteration with prescription medications. As there may be no history of the specific use of these products their contribution to death may not be fully appreciated during a standard autopsy. Even when their existence is known or suspected, it may be difficult to identify these substances on standard toxicologic screening. Herbal medicines may also be responsible for a range of symptoms and signs that may confuse the clinical presentation of cases. Given these issues the role of herbal medicines in forensic practice needs to be more clearly defined as deaths may be occurring where herbal medicines have made a significant, but as-yet unrecognized, contribution. © 2010 American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Byard R.W.,University of Adelaide | Summersides G.,Forensic Science SA
Journal of Forensic Sciences | Year: 2011

Abstract: To determine whether vitreous humor sodium levels might be of use in evaluating deaths associated with immersion, samples of vitreous humor were prospectively evaluated at autopsy over a 4-year period from 2006 to 2009. There were 19 cases of saltwater immersion (age range 9-76years; mean age 44years; M:F, 2.8:1) and 16 freshwater immersions (age range 2-81years; mean age 27years; M:F, 2.2:1). In the group of saltwater drownings, vitreous humor sodium levels were elevated, ranging from 145 to 184mM (mean=160.2±9.9mM), and in the cases of freshwater drowning, the levels were reduced, ranging from 73 to 148mM (mean=129.8±17mM; p<0.0001). Alterations in electrolyte levels may have been because of hemoconcentration or dilution from electrolyte fluxes in the lungs, or from passive diffusion during immersion. This study has demonstrated that vitreous sodium level is an easily performed test that may be a useful adjunct to the investigation of possible immersion deaths. © 2011 American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Byard R.W.,University of Adelaide | Heath K.,Forensic Science SA
International Journal of Legal Medicine | Year: 2010

A girl aged 21 months and a boy aged 3 years both died of hemorrhage from intestinal and mesenteric lacerations due to inflicted blunt abdominal trauma. Histologic examination of sections from the areas of duodenal and mesenteric lacerations confirmed changes of acute injury with hemorrhage, acute inflammatory infiltrates, and surface fibrin deposition. In addition, in both cases, there was also evidence of much longer-standing trauma with mesenteric fibrosis and hemosiderin-containing macrophages (the latter in keeping with previous hemorrhage). In the absence of a history of surgery and local inflammatory disease, these findings suggest that these children had suffered previous abdominal trauma, possibly from similar types of injuries. Scarring of the mesentery and intestine in cases of lethal childhood blunt abdominal trauma may provide evidence of previous similar, significant although sublethal tissue damage. Extensive histologic sampling of abdominal organs and tissues including the mesentery can, therefore, be extremely useful in such cases. © 2009 Springer-Verlag.

The study showed some microbial communities associated with humans tick in a predictable, clock-like succession following death, said CU-Boulder and UC San Diego Senior Research Associate Jessica Metcalf, who led the study with UC San Diego Professor Rob Knight. The study also showed the method could not only be used to estimate time of death in different seasons, but as a way to determine the original location of moved corpses and even help in locating buried corpses. "We feel there is great promise that our findings could be used by forensic scientists," said Metcalf of CU-Boulder's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. "We view it as potential method that could be used with other lines of evidence by investigators attempting to solve suspicious crimes." A paper on the subject is being published in the Dec. 10 online issue of Science. The study involved 25 researchers from 11 institutions and Sam Houston State University's Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility (STAFSF), a seven-acre outdoor human decomposition research lab. Located in Huntsville, Texas, the facility contains cadavers previously willed to STAFSF. These donations allow students, law enforcement officials, scientists and medical experts to study bodies in various decomposition stages, aiding them in forensic science situations. In addition to studying human cadavers, the team studied the decomposition of mice on three different soil types: desert, short-grass prairie and high alpine forest. Surprisingly, the "decomposer" microbial communities under mice were similar in all three soils, much like the predictable succession in soils beneath the human cadavers. Metcalf said "decomposer" microbes are ubiquitous but rare in and on our bodies as well as in the environment before death occurs, but become abundant after death. Each human harbors up to an estimated 100 trillion microbes - as many as 10 times the number of cells in the body - that undertake functions ranging from food digestion to strengthening of the immune system, said Knight, a professor in both the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UC San Diego. The team used powerful gene-sequencing techniques to chart microbes present on cadavers and associated soils in both time and location immediately following death. "Advances in genetic sequencing technologies now allow us to find patterns in large, diverse populations of microorganisms, see how they associate with specific individuals, and understand how they change over time in a way we couldn't just a few years ago," said Knight, who leads the UC San Diego Microbiome and Microbial Sciences Initiative. "This study extends the techniques we developed using the microbiome to predict disease while a person is alive, and shows the microbiome can also provide useful information after death." Knight was also part of a group of U.S. scientists who co-authored a recent Science paper calling for a nationwide Unified Microbiome Initiative. For both the mouse and human cadavers, skin and soil microbes provided good accuracy in predicting time of death, with a roughly a two-to-four-day error estimate over a span of 25 days, said Knight. The team also demonstrated that bodies decomposing on soils modify the soil microbial communities substantially, allowing detection of a decomposing human body via the soil microbial community even if a body has been moved. The accuracy of lock-step changes in the microbiota after death is shown to be on a par with blowflies, a current and popular forensic tool and which are attracted to vertebrate corpses where they lay eggs that develop as larvae in known time increments. But unlike the blowfly method—which is of limited use by forensic scientists because of both cold seasons and corpse accessibility—the new technique has no such constraints, said Metcalf. Co-author Sibyl Bucheli of Sam Houston State said the new study also shows the importance vertebrate decomposition plays in the function of terrestrial ecosystems. While plant litter makes up by far the largest percentage of organic material on Earth's surface, decaying mammals are an important contributor in biological nutrient cycling. Decomposition is a fundamental microbial function that plays a major role in how ecosystems work," said study co-author Sasha Reed at the U.S. Geological Survey in Moab, Utah. "This research adds a novel perspective showing how microbes from very different environments assemble and function in similar ways that allow for the production of natural fertilizer." Explore further: New study finds 'microbial clock' may help determine time of death More information: "Microbial community assembly and metabolic function during mammalian corpse decomposition" Science, www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.aad2646

The skull and crown of Saint Erik. On April 23, 2014, the medieval reliquary containing the saint's bones was opened at a ceremony in Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden. More To open a medieval reliquary containing a saint's bones, you have to have a good reason, said Sabine Sten. Sten is an osteoarchaeologist (a type of scientist who studiesskeletal remains from archaeological sites) at Uppsala University in Sweden. Two years ago, she got permission to open a reliquary (a container used to hold objects deemed holy) at the Uppsala Cathedral, to study the bones of Erik Jedvardsson, a medieval Swedish king turned saint. "We have analyzed thousands of individuals from the medieval period in Sweden, but the people we lack resources from [are] the people like Erik, who have high status," Sten told Live Science. The bones hadn't been examined since 1946—before the rise of radiocarbon dating and DNA tests. After a new analysis, Sten and her team announced that Erik's remains may be authentic, and could reveal more information about his healthy life and gruesome death. [Religious Mysteries: 8 Alleged Relics of Jesus] For almost as long as Christianity has been around, Christian relics have been objects of worship, but they became increasingly popular in Europe in the Middle Ages. Churches across the continent claimed to have venerable artifacts like the foreskin of Jesus, as well as the nails and cross used in his crucifixion, and the tooth of Mary Magdalene. Perhaps unsurprisingly, not all holy relics hold up to scientific scrutiny. For instance, a 2010 study in the journal Forensic Science International concluded that the charred relics of Joan of Arc kept in a glass bottle in France were fake (and even included some cat bone fragments). And radiocarbon dating tests showed that the two skulls in a relic shrine in Sweden thought to belong to the 14th century St. Birgitta and her daughter, Katarina, were actually separated by about 200 years —one was much older, and the other much younger, than they should have been. No historical sources from Erik's lifetime mention him. But according to texts written more than a century later, Erik led the First Swedish Crusade, spreading Christianity to the Finns, until the king was beheaded in 1160 by rebels aligned with a Danish claimant to the throne. Erik became a saint after his death, and his remains have supposedly been kept in a reliquary in Uppsala Cathedral since 1257. They were even left in place after the 16th century Reformation, in which Sweden transformed from a Catholic country into a Protestant one. [Holy Dream Team? The Most Notorious Catholic Saints] From the reliquary, Sten and her colleagues studied 23 bones, seemingly from the same person. (DNA test results are still pending, which would definitively confirm whether all of these bones belonged to one individual.) The radiocarbon tests, which measure the age of organic materials, were consistent with a death in 1160, the researchers said. The analysis showed that the bones belonged to a man who died at age 35 to 40. Standing at about 5 feet 6 inches (1.7 meters) tall, he was well fed and well built, with no discernible diseases, the researchers found. "His body is very healthy," Sten said. Compared with men in their 30s in Sweden today, Erik's bones were much stronger — actually, 25 percent stronger, according to a measurement of his bone density —hinting that he had a very active life. "We can also see that he was consuming freshwater fish," Sten added, which makes sense considering that, in the 12th century, Christians had to observe more fast[ing] days in which they were not allowed to eat meat from sheep, cattle or pigs. According to legend, Erik was attacked, tormented and beheaded by his enemies after leaving a church. The bone analysis showed that he suffered seven severe cuts on his legs, and one of his neck vertebra was cut through. For now, Sten said she and her colleagues are still waiting on the DNA results in order to learn more about Erik's genealogy and whether he was harboring diseases that are invisible to the naked eye. Their initial findings will be published in an upcoming issue of the Swedish journal Fornvännen. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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