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Review of adipocere formation on decomposing bodies

Lawn, Jessica J. (2017) Review of adipocere formation on decomposing bodies. Masters by Coursework thesis, Murdoch University.

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Decomposition is a process that occurs in a body after death involving the breakdown of organic matter. Decomposition is influenced by a range of factors that act together with the general outcome being the complete degradation of a body.

Adipocere formation is a disruption of the typical decomposition process with the final result being the preservation of remains, human or animal. Adipocere arises from the decomposition of adipose tissue within the body. Adipocere is composed mostly of saturated fatty acids with hydroxy fatty acids, oxo fatty acids and fatty acid salts formed as by‐products. The mechanism of formation is not fully understood although several theories have been proposed. Adipocere is not an end product and will degrade under the right circumstances,
mainly exposure to aerobic conditions and may also be consumed by macrofauna.

The environments adipocere has been found in have been studied to elucidate the many factors that may influence formation. Water, soil, and dry environments are all capable of producing conditions conducive to adipocere formation. The main factors known to promote formation in all environments are an anaerobic environment, sufficient adipose tissue, warm temperatures, a mildly alkaline pH, bacteria and moisture.

Adipocere may form partially within the soft tissues or they may turn completely into adipocere, preserving the internal organs and bones which may also form adipocere. Formation can occur in as little as a day or form over many years.

Studying adipocere formation is important in forensic science as it may aid forensic professionals in their casework in terms of post‐mortem interval and ause/manner of death determination and comparison between similar, previously reported cases and a current case may be useful in aiding the process of the investigation.

Additional research is needed in the area of adipocere degradation as there is little literature on it. The determination of the post‐mortem interval is complicated by adipocere formation and there is still not a reliable way to estimate it in bodies with adipocere formation.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Coursework)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor(s): Magni, Paola and Speers, James
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