Dec. 17 - Maggots found feeding on bodies burned or mutilated beyond recognition, may hold the answers to identifying the dead. Scientists in Mexico say a DNA examination of contents inside three maggots found on a badly burned body led to its identification, when the flesh itself was too badly decomposed to reveal useful samples. Kilmeny Duchardt reports.
Nuevo Leon in northern Mexico is on the frontline of the country's unrelenting drug war. Thousands of people have been killed, many of them decapitated and burned beyond recognition. For forensic scientists, identifying the dead is often impossible, as burned flesh yields no DNA for analysis. But earlier this year, scientists led by Dr Lourdes Chaves at the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon scored a victory. They were able to identify a missing woman by examining the DNA of content s inside maggots that had consumed the few tiny morsels of viable flesh left on her charred body. SOUNDBITE: DR. LOURDES CHAVEZ, HEAD OF THE FORENSIC SERVICES DEPARTMENT, AUTONOMOUS UNIVERSITY OF NUEVO LEON, SAYING: "Once the maggots are deposited in the cadaver, they begin to feed themselves. With that in mind, we decided to collect the maggots dissect them, and remove the contents of the digestive system. Inside the gastrointestinal tract, we can find the material that has been consumed from the decomposing corpse. It was really a surprise to be able to magnify and analyze the contents at that stage." With that success, the researchers beleive they have found a new investiagtive tool. DNA is also extracted from bones, but it's a much longer process. SOUNDBITE: DR. LOURDES CHAVEZ, HEAD OF THE FORENSIC SERVICES DEPARTMENT, AUTONOMOUS UNIVERSITY OF NUEVO LEON, SAYING: "With this, we'd save a lot of time by utilizing the maggots. In any case, we will still examine the bones to make sure our analysis of the body is correct. It is another option." And it's a valuable option for crime fighters like Jorge Domene, in a place where the body count frequently overwhelms resources. SOUNDBITE: JORGE DOMENE, NUEVO LEON PUBLIC SECURITY SPOKESMAN, SAYING: "We are at a point today in which we are prepared, which happens to coincide, in a way which was not planned, with the index of violence we have had over the last two years. This has helped solve important cases that otherwise would have been practically or literally impossible to identify the victim." And without a victim I.D, it's impossible to prosecute a murder case. In Mexico, the maggot is gaining a new measure of respect.