New research has found that a person who has recently died has an almost identical scent to the smell of freshly cut grass. Researchers from the University of Huddersfield found that before the process of decay kicks in, in the very early stages of decomposition before the corpse becomes riddled with bacteria, the flesh begins to eat itself and omits a compound known as hexanol, which is a familiar smell to gardeners.
The researchers analysed the gasses given off after a recent death by studying pig cadavers, allowing them to rot in boxes, some of which contained water. A gas chromatography machine was utilised to then detect what vapours were given off.
Another component, known as indole, is present which smells similar to faeces – and can be found in some perfumes. A third element that is given off during the initial stages of decay is trimethylamine that has a distinctive fish-like smell.
Speaking at the British Science Festival at the University of Bradford, researcher Dr Anna Williams, from the University of Huddersfield, said: "A body smells pretty rank, but there are changes over time with different stages of decomposition. In the first few days the body is going through a process of autolysis, which is basically the self-digestion of cells. When the bacteria get involved that's when it gets really smelly."
The goal of the research is to equip cadaver dogs, who are in place to sniff out dead bodies, with better training. Williams continued: "There's a lot of mystery surrounding what cadaver dogs respond to. We want to have a better idea of how they are working and how they can be trained. Maybe they only respond at particular stages of the process, and maybe we can be more scientific in the way that we train them.
"We hope this research, combined with training, will lead to greater success in finding bodies."