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DIATOMS! Drowning?! Death?! Forensics?!

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17 June, 2015

Sarah Spaulding

One of the guidelines for contributors of species pages for Diatoms of the United States project is that images are taken from North American samples. However, contributors submit fantastic images of diatoms from around the world. While we don’t include those images on species pages, we include them in glossary definitions, genus pages and image galleries. Today, we focus on a gallery of images contributed by the Guangzhou Forensic Science Institute.

The Guangzhou Forensic Science Institute is the key laboratory for the Ministry of Public Security, Guangdong Province, China. Researchers are cataloging the species of freshwater and marine diatoms across the region and the habitats where they occur. This information is used as a resource for forensics cases. In particular, they are working to use diatoms to clarify the cause and place of death by drowning.

Drowning?! Death?! Forensics?!

If water enters into the lungs of a mammal, whether a gerbil, dog, or a human, the mammal can drown. Along with the aspiration of water, diatoms may become lodged within lung tissues. Because diatoms are particular about the habitats and water chemistry where they grow, the salinity, pH, and nutrient concentration, even the exact body of water may be determined. Investigators are concerned with determining the site where a gerbil, dog or human drowned, or if they did, indeed, drowned.