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Science

Researchers Isolate the "Smell of Human Death" 49

sciencehabit writes: In the wake California's forest fires, cadaver dogs had to distinguish between burning homes, charred forest, and even other dead animals to pick up the unique scent of human victims. A new study reveals how they might have done it: Decomposing humans seem to release a unique chemical cocktail, one that scientists might be able to use to better train cadaver dogs and even develop machines that could do the same job.
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Researchers Isolate the "Smell of Human Death"

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  • Our poop (and the related gases that are released after death) smells different because we eat so much trash.

    • Not according to the article posted.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Death doesn't smell like poop. Death smells, well, like death. Humans have a unique biochemstry and diet, this contributes to the smell when dead. I, like some people, have a very, very sensitive nose (I could probably be a cadaver dog it I wanted to). When you realize that individuals and families have unique smells (which has been scientifically proven), then you have to see that the 'aroma' of death is multi-layered and has many components.

  • I am now really interested to know if there are any kinds of modifications to human behavior and/or physiology as a result of encountering this smell. I mean, without the subject being aware that what is being smelled is "human death." I don't know if that would be considered morbid, but it would be interesting to see if Humans have a subconscious recognition of that smell and its implications.
    • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

      Rotting meat smells foul wherever it came from. Most people wouldn't hang around to analyse the bouquet and try and figure out if it used to be Granny.

  • by melios ( 164381 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:03AM (#50580505)
    Jelly Belly has announced they're working on a new flavor.
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      I can't believe people eat puke flavored jelly beans. I didn't believe the rumor until I visited their showroom/store. Baffle. They also have poop flavored.

      I wonder if it was discovered by accident? Never mind, I'll leave that trivia in the Goatse TMI lock-box.

      • I first encountered the vomit flavored ones in the Bertie Bott's Beans that Jelly Belly made for Harry Potter (for those unfamiliar with HP, the candy in the story contains EVERY flavor, not just good ones). So that is most likely the origin of the horrible flavors. They also had booger, earwax, and soap flavors (plus others, but I don't remember poop!). You try them once and then their only real use is to put into your desk candy bowl to keep people from stealing. :-D
  • Put them in every house and on every street corner, so if anyone ever dies unexpectedly, the authorities will be alerted promptly.

  • Dead People? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @02:00AM (#50580613)

    Kind of smells like a raw roast you left out before you went on vacation.

    I was a Fire Fighter for 12 years before moving on, seen and smelled a few dead bodies, rotting flesh is rotting flesh.

    And if you have lived on a farm and had to deal with dead cows... Same thing.

    The flies... OH MAN THE FLIES...

    • That's the point, all dead animals decompose and release particles into the air.
      The scientist in this study kept jars of different types of flesh, including pig, rabbit, turtle and mole, and let them decompose. She sampled the air from their jars, to see which particles only appeared in decomposing human flesh, and not in that of other animals.

      The flies... OH MAN THE FLIES...

      On a dairy, it's not the dead cows that attract the most flies....

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Every dead animal has its own scent as it decomposes. Drive in an area where roadkills are common and you will notice that quickly. It is easy to discern the species before you see it after you have learned the various scents.

    • Re:Dead People? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @04:40AM (#50580929)

      "The flies... OH MAN THE FLIES..."

      I got that beat:
      The first warm day in May of 1966, after a month of unrelenting rain, a peculiar, somewhat musty, somewhat sweet, smell permeated the house that we had just rented in Rural California.
      Dad takes a sniff, pronounces "Dead Cow".

      This I just had to see for myself. (And smell...)
      Vickie and I, (Vickie was a black mutt of indeterminate ancestry who bore an uncanny profile resemblance to Queen Victoria in Mourning.), found it on the neighboring Ranch, about a half mile in, underneath a fallen Oak Tree.
      It was black and white and very, very, bloated. It had been there a while, and the cold rain had kept it reasonably fresh.
      Note here: This was a Tax Cow. Ranches had to maintain a minimum number of Cows to maintain "Agricultural Preserve" Tax Status. One cow for every forty acres or so. A scam of course- all that Ranch Land was already designated R1 Residential; they started building houses there four years later.

      Vickie was delighted- Her first Dead Cow. The flies didn't bother us much; they had more important matters to deal with.
      Vickie grabbed something on the belly, tugged, and the Cow exploded. Oh, the Smell, and... and...

      Yellow Jackets use that time of year to found new nests in the rapidly cracking California Adobe soil. But why do that when there is a perfectly good Dead Cow recently come onto the market?
      I have never run faster in my life. Those Yellow Jackets were _pissed_.
      Vickie followed. Whatever it was she had yanked, she wanted to keep. So she stopped maybe every fifty yards or so, and argued with the Yellow Jackets about the finer points of Ownership.

      I didn't get stung. (Good thing- Allergies...) Vickie finally made it home with her Prize, and a persistent cloud of Yellow Jackets.
      She stayed outside.
      Eventually, she threw up, and we had another swarm of pissed Yellow Jackets to deal with. She must have swallowed a hundred of them, whole.

      We called the Sheriff, who called Animal Control, who called the absentee Rancher, and they informed him that a Dead Cow was _his_ problem.
      A Bulldozer later became involved.

    • The organic emission mix is what differentiates us as individuals. Every person while alive has a distinct odor, whether one wants to admit it or not. Upon death the body will release a mix of esters and other hydrocarbons, along with some sulphur compounds, that reflects what your body was composed of at the time of death. While there may be a generalized "smell of death", sensitive measurements using calibrated equipment could identify individuals once the organic emission mechanism after death is better
  • by Required Snark ( 1702878 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @03:06AM (#50580715)
    Seems like an obvious market.
    • Just in time for Halloween!
    • Some smells are liked and disliked depending on the person. Some smells are universally abhorrent. The smells associated with decaying bodies are the latter, for further reading some of the compounds involved are Putrescine [wikipedia.org] and Cadaverine [wikipedia.org].
      • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @11:13AM (#50582873)

        Some smells are universally abhorrent.

        Axe body spray.

      • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @01:27PM (#50584151) Homepage Journal

        It's also concentration- and context-dependent. Putrescine, for example, is found in a lot of foods (in parts-per-billion quantities). Cheeses include both putrescine and cadaverine; the distinction between "ferment" and "rot" is kind of arbitrary. Without those flavors, the cheese would taste different. The small amounts are not automatically repulsive.

        A number of compounds are pleasant in tiny doses and noxious in larger ones. They're not even identifiable as the same; people treat them as entirely different. My favorite example is butyric acid, which smells like vomit in concentration, but like butter when dilute. Another (and I'm afraid the exact molecule is escaping me) smells like either honey or cat urine, and is found in both.

  • The cadaver dogs in Resident Evil were terrifying! And Will Smith's cadaver dog in "I am Legend" made me cry.

  • I'd imagine the IDF will be deploying this against those fearsome enemies of theirs in Gaza etc - this is really the perfect utility of this kind of research. Could definitely come in handy for law-and-order types elsewhere too. It's macabre and creepy sure, but if it's effective then who gives a fuck eh.
  • by LesFerg ( 452838 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @07:17AM (#50581333) Homepage

    They want to make machines which seek out the smell of dead humans? What could possibly go wrong.
    One small logic glitch and the whole damned robot army will suddenly know just how to make that smell they were sent out to locate.

    • Why would a killer machine seek out dead people? That makes no sense unless they're tasked to stamping out zombies. Besides, killer machines would be seeking the warm-blooded via infrared thermography (live people).

  • "But enough about my house mates."
  • Dead people smell better than McDonald's burgers.

  • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Wednesday September 23, 2015 @11:17AM (#50582913) Journal

    Putrescine[3] and cadaverine[4] were first described in 1885 by the Berlin physician Ludwig Brieger (1849–1919).[5]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • "Honey I'm home!"

    "What did you do today?"

    "We isolated the stench of death."

    "That's nice."

  • I lived in an apartment building years ago where the cops had to break in a door to discover a dead man. Everyone that walked into that building KNEW it smelled like dead human. It wasn't merely heady whiffs of the cadaverine/putricine/etc. I think there's something inborn by which we are aware that a certain smell means a human kicked the bucket. I'd never smelled it before that day, all the dead people I'd encountered were in funeral homes, etc. But as soon as the smell hit my nose I knew what it was even

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