Here's What Creates the Unique Smell of Human Death

New findings could help train better cadaver dogs
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 26, 2015 6:32 AM CDT
Here's What Creates the Unique Smell of Human Death
A cadaver dog hunts for victims during flooding in Utah this month. Scientists believe they can better train such dogs by identifying the unique smell of decomposing human bodies   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Thanks to a team of researchers from Belgium, we may be close to synthesizing and, yes, possibly even bottling and selling the smell of human death, Discovery reports. Eva Cuypers and her team at the University of Leuven separated the tissues and organs of six humans and 26 different animals, placing them in jars to decompose over the next six months. By collecting the gases building up in the jars, researchers identified 452 organic compounds, according to Science. Eight of those compounds were found only in decomposing humans and surprisingly human-like pigs, and five of them were unique to humans. These five compounds—called esters—were created by decomposing muscles, carbohydrates, and fat, Discovery reports.

The esters create a "singular chemical cocktail" in decomposing humans and could explain why so-called cadaver dogs are able to sniff out dead people amid any number of competing smells, including other dead animals, Science reports. Cuypers and her team published their findings last week. They believe the results could be used to better train cadaver dogs or even create a machine that could do the same job. And Discovery points out the synthetic smell of decomposing human bodies could prove popular at Halloween parties. Experts have questioned components of the research—including the separation of tissue and organs—and Cuypers plans a follow-up study using full bodies buried in a field, Science reports. (The smell of corpses can also reveal when a person died.)

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