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Characterizing the postmortem human bone microbiome from surface-decomposed remains

NCJ Number
PLoS ONE Volume: 15 Issue: 7 Dated: 2020
Date Published

The goals of this study were to (1) identify the types of microbes capable of colonizing different human bone types and (2) relate microbial abundances, diversity, and community composition to bone type and human DNA preservation.


Microbial colonization of bone is an important mechanism of postmortem skeletal degradation; however, the types and distributions of bone and tooth colonizing microbes are not well characterized. It is unknown whether microbial communities vary in abundance or composition between bone element types, which could help explain differences in human DNA preservation. In the current study, DNA extracts from 165 bone and tooth samples from three skeletonized individuals were assessed for bacterial loading and microbial community composition and structure. Random forest models were applied to predict operational taxonomic units (OTUs) associated with human DNA concentration. Dominant bacterial bone colonizers were from the phyla Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, and Planctomycetes. Eukaryotic bone colonizers were from Ascomycota, Apicomplexa, Annelida, Basidiomycota, and Ciliophora. Bacterial loading was not a significant predictor of human DNA concentration in two out of three individuals. Random forest models were minimally successful in identifying microbes related to human DNA concentration, which were complicated by high variability in community structure between individuals and body regions. This work expands knowledge of the types of microbes capable of colonizing the postmortem human skeleton and potentially contributing to human skeletal DNA degradation. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2020