Death Has a Deathly Odor


Credit to Forensic Outreach

The putrid odor of a dead organism, animal or human, is definitely one of the worst things to encounter. If you’ve ever taken a whiff of a dead mouse or other animal, the smell augments and slowly goes away. I’ve encountered so many moments where a dead mouse remained hidden in the walls of my house, reeking of an unsatisfying smell that lingered around my house. Why do dead bodies smell so bad? What exactly happens to the dead body for it to spread this odor?

The reason for this smell is due to the process of decomposition. When an organism dies, for instance, there is a large process for how a dead human body or dead animal decomposes.

article-0-1c8e3d2100000578-771_634x348According to Erika Engelhaupt of Science News, there are two chemical compounds that are involved: cadaverine and putrescine. These compounds contribute to the breakdown of amino acids in the dead body. Both of these compounds also have very stringent odors. After the compounds break down other elements of the body, the body starts to change colors, and the bacteria in the body creates an odor.

Based on a six-month study, as described by Andrew Griffin of Independent, scientists observed 32 corpses, with 18.75% being human bodies, and 81% being animal bodies. This study involved the determination of the chemicals in the bodies, comparing pig and human bodies. While this study has helped with understanding why dead bodies harbor the odors from the chemicals, the observations were not successful because the scientists did not study the entire corpses.

Null hypothesis: Cadaverine and putrescine does not cause an odor for the dead organism

Alternative hypothesis: Cadaverine and putrescine causes the odor for the dead organism

x-variable: Cadaverine and putrescine involved in body decomposition; y-variable: stringent odor of organism

Reverse causation: Ruled out

Third confounding variables: none

Chance: No

The reason why dead bodies have bad odors during decomposition is due to the two chemical compounds. There aren’t enough studies because all dead bodies produce cadaverine and putrescine, thus creating the foul-smelling odor during the process of decomposition. The alternative hypothesis is acceptable, meaning that we can reject the null hypothesis and accept the alternative hypothesis. There is no reverse causation or third confounding variables involved, nor is it due by chance.

Overall, the smell of a dead organism is the worst, but it’s interesting to know and understand why death smells so deadly. There should definitely be more studies on why these chemical compounds smell so bad and why are they such an important part of the decomposition process for the body.





One thought on “Death Has a Deathly Odor

  1. Patrick Ryan

    That’s an interesting topic to write about. I like how you added the different variables and hypotheses because it shows you understand what the study is saying. Its nice to see that you can incorporate things we’ve learned in class to an outside topic. Decomposition can actually help out in a forensics stand point. For example it can explain the time of death a crime occurred even if it has been decomposing for a long time. Check out this article for more information…

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