A group of researchers from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville hypothesized that a blast of nutrients can change the color of a tree’s leaves. If the nutrients flowing out of a corpse can change the color and reflectance of plants, then the authorities could use a drone to scan a forest to look for the changes in the trees in order to find deceased missing people. Take note that this is still theoretical, but a floating idea nonetheless among researchers, as Ars Technica details:
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“What we’re proposing is to use plants as indicators of human decomposition, to hopefully be able to use individual trees within the forest to help pinpoint where someone has died, to help in body recovery,” says UT Knoxville plant biologist Neal Stewart, coauthor on the new paper.
As a large mammal like a human decomposes in a forest, its breakdown transforms the soil in a number of ways. The body’s “necrobiome”—all the bacteria that was already in it when it was alive—replicates like crazy in the absence of an immune system. This necrobiome mixes with the microbes in the dirt. “The soil microbiome will change and, of course, the plant roots will also sense some changes,” says Stewart. But, he adds, “we don’t really know what those changes are.”
Image via Ars Technica