The postmortem interval (PMI) of victims is a key parameter in criminal investigations. However, effective methods for estimating the PMI of skeletal remains have not been established because it is determined by various factors, including environmental conditions. To identify effective parameters for estimating the PMI of skeletal remains, we investigated the change in bone focusing on the amount of DNA, element concentrations, and bone density that occurred in the bone samples of bovine femurs, each maintained under one of five simulated environmental conditions (seawater, freshwater, underground, outdoors, and indoors) for 1 year. The amount of extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA; 404 bp fragment) decreased over time, and significant DNA degradation (p < 0.01), as estimated by a comparison with amplification results for a shorter fragment (128 bp), was detected between 1 month and 3 months. Eleven of 30 elements were detected in samples by inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry, and Na and Ba showed significant quantitative differences in terms of environmental conditions and time (p < 0.01). This preliminary study suggests that the level of DNA degradation determined by real-time polymerase chain reaction and element concentrations determined by inductively coupled plasma optical emission may be useful indices for estimating the PMI of victims under a wide range of environmental conditions. However, this study is a limited experimental research and not applicable to forensic cases as it is. Further studies of human bone with longer observation periods are required to verify these findings and to establish effective methods for PMI estimation.
Keywords: DNA degradation; bone density; element concentration; inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry; postmortem interval; skeletal remains.