The scent of death: Scientists find exactly what human corpses smell like

Humans release a special cocktail of chemicals when they die, researchers have found, in a discovery that could lead to finding corpses much more easily

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The Independent Online

New research has become the first to isolate the particular scent of human death, describing the various chemicals that are emitted by corpses in an attempt to help find them in the future.

The researchers hope that the findings are the first step towards working on a synthetic smell that could train cadaver dogs to be able to more accurately find human bodies, or to eventually developing electronic devices that can look for the scent themselves.

Scientists have long been looking to identify the exact scent of human death, with the hope of improving the ways that they find human bodies in situations like natural disasters. And the researchers think they might finally have found the chemical cocktail that is emitted by human bodies, and helps distinguish them from other corpses.

Research projects like the Body Farm — a station in Tennessee where donated bodies are left exposed to various conditions to see how they decompose — have provided useful understanding about what exactly happens as corpses break down. But there have been long disputes about what exactly is unique about humans, as compared to other animal bodies.

Scientists studied six dead human bodies and 26 animal corpses in a laboratory environment, overa period of six months. They studied the exact chemicals that were emitted by the bodies, and found the ones that allowed them to distinguish between pig and human bodies.


That research is important because it’s the first time that human and pig carcasses have been monitored under the exact same conditions, experts told Science.

But the usefulness of the study could be undermined by the fact that it only used individual body parts, rather than studying entire corpses. That could mean that the chemical makeup could be different for an entire body, Science reports.

“Further research in the field with full bodies has to corroborate these results and search for one or more human specific markers,” the team behind the study note in their Abstract, published in PLOS One. “These markers would allow a more efficiently training of cadaver dogs or portable detection devices could be developed.”