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J Chromatogr A. 2012 Sep 14;1255:163-70. doi: 10.1016/j.chroma.2012.03.048. Epub 2012 Apr 3.

Comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography-time-of-flight mass spectrometry for the forensic study of cadaveric volatile organic compounds released in soil by buried decaying pig carcasses.

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CART, Organic and Biological Analytical Chemistry, Chemistry Department, University of Liège, Allée du 6 août, B6c, Sart-Tilman, B-4000 Liège, Belgium.


This article reports on the use of comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography-time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GC×GC-TOFMS) for forensic geotaphonomy application. Gravesoil samples were collected at various depths and analyzed for their volatile organic compound (VOC) profile. A data processing procedure was developed to highlight potential candidate marker molecules related to the decomposition process that could be isolated from the soil matrix. Some 20 specific compounds were specifically found in the soil sample taken below the carcass and 34 other compounds were found at all depths of the gravesoil samples. The group of the 20 compounds consisted of ketones, nitriles, sulfurs, heterocyclic compounds, and benzene derivatives like aldehydes, alcohols, ketones, ethers and nitriles. The group of the 34 compounds consisted of methyl-branched alkane isomers including methyl-, dimethyl-, trimethyl-, tetramethyl-, and heptamethyl-isomers ranging from C(12) to C(16). A trend in the relative presence of these alkanes over the various layers of soils was observed, with an increase in the amount of the specific alkanes when coming from the carcass to the surface. Based on the specific presence of these methyl-branched alkanes in gravesoils, we created a processing method that applies a specific script to search raw data for characteristic mass spectral features related to recognizable mass fragmentation pattern. Such screening of soil samples for cadaveric decomposition signature was successfully applied on two gravesoil sites and clearly differentiates soils at proximity of buried decaying pig carcasses from control soils.

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