Elien Rosier has identified what she calls ‘the smell of death‘ – and hopes to use it to help police sniffer dogs find dead bodies.
Her University of Leuven team placed human organs and tissue samples inside jars, allowing air to get inside. Samples of pigs, mice, rabbits, frogs and birds underwent the same procedure. Federal police cadaver dogs were then exposed to the different gases.
ELIEN ROSIER, PHD RESEARCHER AT UNIVERSITY OF LEUVEN:
“So we sampled the remains during six months of decomposition and we could identify 452 different compounds. From all those compounds we searched for human specific compounds using principal component analysis and we could identify a combination of eight compounds that were specific for human and pig remains.”
Pig flesh is currently used to train dogs because of its chemical similarities to human remains. By finding a handful of compounds unique to humans the team believes it can better train police dogs.
EVA CUYPERS, UNIVERSITY OF LEUVEN CHEMIST AND FORENSIC TOXICOLOGIST AT UNIVERSITY OF LEUVEN:
“We made this cocktail here in the lab and we took them to the canine team of the federal police and so we tested if the dogs reacted to this mixture of compounds and actually they did. So they recognized the mixtures as being human decomposing material.”
Local police instigated the lab-based study and are happy with the results.
JAN TYTGAT (PRON: YAN TITTI-AT), TOXICOLOGY PROFESSOR AT UNIVERSITY OF LEUVEN:
“With such knowledge we can train these cadaver dogs much, much better. We can also, let’s say, implement this knowledge into a portable device, it’s definitely possible, and then such a device can be used as a sniffing dog, an instrumental sniffing dog.”
The team plans to move its study from jars in labs to outdoors with buried corpses – the eventual aim to save police valuable time by reducing so-called ‘false positive’ results.