Burn victim identified by DNA in maggots

It isn't pretty, but it's a first for science. A dead body, burned beyond recognition, was discovered in the woods by Mexican police. Investigators had a lead on the identity of the victim, but the body was too damaged to provide DNA for analysis. That is, until scientists stepped in with an innovative and unorthodox solution: extracting DNA from maggots found on the corpse.

Pathologists from the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, in San Nicolas, Mexico, dissected three maggot larvae found on the corpse and extracted the contents of their gastrointestinal tracts. They were then able to isolate the human DNA found within and find a match.

Police believed the victim to be a young woman who had been reported missing ten weeks earlier. The DNA from the maggots was compared to samples taken from the woman's father and found to be a 99.68 percent match.

The pathology team, led by Maria de Lourdes Chavez-Briones and Marta Ortega-Martinez, reported their work in the Journal of Forensic Science. The idea of extracting human DNA from insects has been studied for several years. But this was the first time the theory was put to practice in a criminal case.

The team hopes that their work will encourage law enforcement officials to pay more mind to insects found at crime scenes.