Adaptation of the microbial decomposer community to the burial of skeletal muscle tissue in contrasting soils

Taryn Luitingh

    Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

    124 Downloads (Pure)


    Microorganisms are known to be agents involved in the decomposition of organic matter. However, little is known about the participation of the microbial communities during the decomposition of mammalian skeletal muscle tissue. This study investigates the capacity of the soil microbial community to adapt to the decomposition of skeletal muscle tissue in differing soils. This has implications for the study of mass graves and sites of repeated burial. A controlled laboratory experiment was designed to assess the adaptability of microbial communities present in three distinct soil types (sand, loamy sand and sandy clay loam) found near Perth, Western Australia. This experiment was split into two main stages. The initial decomposition stage involved the addition of porcine skeletal muscle tissue (SMT) (Sus scrofa) to each of the three soil types which were then left to decompose for a period of time. Controls were run in parallel, which had no porcine SMT present. The second decomposition stage involved a second addition of SMT to the soils obtained from the initial decomposition stage. Therefore, for each soil, SMT was either decomposed in the soil that had been pre-exposed to SMT or not. The rate of decomposition, microbial activity (CO2 respiration) and microbial biomass (substrate-induced respiration) were monitored during the second decomposition stage. The functional diversity of the microbial populations in the soil were assessed using Community-Level Physiological Profiling (CLPP). Across the three soil types, the re-introduction of SMT to the soil has led to its enhanced decomposition (measured by tissue mass loss and microbial activity) by the microbial communities. This microbial adaptation may have been facilitated by a functional change in the soil microbial communities.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2008

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