Volume 43, Issue 2 (March 1998)
The Natural Decomposition of Adipocere
Adipocere is a waxy substance which sometimes forms from the adipose tissue of dead bodies, especially when they are under water. A disinterment in southern Ontario lead to the recovery of extensive adipocere from an interment which occurred in AD 1869. Subsequent laboratory research was designed to explore the conditions under which adipocere will disappear, the goal being to identify strategies for estimating a range of time since death in cases where adipocere is present. Varieties of aerobic or facultatively anaerobic microorganisms from the surface of the adipocere were separated and identified. In culture, the gram positive were able to degrade the adipocere. We propose that the persistence of adipocere is related to the exclusion of gram positive bacteria from the burial environment. The role of bacteria in adipocere formation and degradation must be understood before we can use the presence of adipocere to extrapolate information about the post-death interval.