Human Corpses Can Be Discovered Thanks To Plants

The forest area covers about 31% of the earth’s landmass. The forest area is a wide expanse. So wide and dense, they could hide multiple numbers of secrets and humans would never know. For example, human corpses. When we put remote locations and forest canopies together, finding human bodies can be impossible. If someone buries a body in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, it would be difficult to locate. Even for the person who buried it! 

Photo by WWF
Photo by WWF

At least it was. Until scientists located the dead bodies. A recent paper published in the journal Trends In Plant Science suggests that trees and shrub canopies can guide search and rescue teams towards human remains. It’s like the plot of a murder mystery novel.

Usually, we consider plants and trees an obstacle in the search process. But with this new discovery, we can use plants and trees to our advantage. The scientists call the ecosystem around human corpses a ‘cadaver decomposition island’. The purged fluids accumulate around the body and create a cadaver decomposition island.

The chemical compounds of a decomposing body cause a change in the soil’s chemistry and lead to environmental changes in plant roots. As a result, cadaver decomposition islands provide significant insights for locating dead bodies.

The Study Of Human Corpses Is Exciting

The team of researchers from the University Of Tennessee said the alteration of surrounding soil and plant leaves might lead to plant foliar compositional changes that they could ‘detect remotely’.

human corpses
Photo by ScienceMag

On cadaver decomposition islands, plant continuation might favor exotic, invasive, and weedy plants. Invasive plants usually have sizeable root systems that can respond to changing environments quickly. These plants can change their chemical and cellular composition quickly as a reaction to the contents of the soil.

A team of botanists, anthropologists, and soil scientists at the university are going to experiment with the ‘cadaver islands’ to achieve a better understanding of how plants can help reduce the time to find human remains via on-foot pursuits and aerial searches.

The university’s Anthropology Research Facility will conduct the research. The scientists refer to this facility as the “body farm,” where they study the process of human body decomposition. The varying conditions of decomposition and how it affects the surrounding plants are the primary focus.

The authors warned that the research was still in the early stages. There’s still a long way to go before we can use plants as a body recovery tool. But they also mentioned that these early stages of the research were quite exciting. They hope the technology will be even more high-tech and able to scan plants for body remains.

Facing Challenges                 

Photo by University of Tennessee
Photo by University of Tennessee

“In smaller, open landscapes foot patrols could be effective to find someone missing, but in more forested or treacherous parts of the world like the Amazon, that will not be possible at all,” said senior author Neal Stewart Junior, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Tennessee, in a statement to CNN. “This led us to look into plants as indicators of human decomposition, which could lead to faster, and possibly safer body recovery.”

“The most obvious result of the islands would be a large release of nitrogen into the soil, especially in the summer when decomposition is happening so fast,” Stewart added. “Depending on how quickly the plants respond to the influx of nitrogen, it may cause changes in leaf color and reflectance.”

However, the team of researchers is facing some challenges. One of these issues is the fact that humans aren’t the only mammals dying in the woods. Thus, Stewart and his team are going to have to find a scanner that differentiates between humans and other animals. They need to understand the specific molecules of human corpses that contribute to the plant changes.

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