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Professor develops advanced blowfly database to help solve murders

When detectives arrive on the scene of a murder, many questions arise: When did the murder take place? What was the cause of death? Was the body moved?

The answers to these questions can come from an unexpected source — blowflies.

According to Jonathan Parrott, assistant professor of forensic science at Arizona State University, blowflies usually arrive on a crime scene just 10 minutes after a murder. They are drawn by body fluids and gasses associated with the decomposition of an open-air corpse, and like a fly on the wall, can reveal secrets about the homicide.

But in order to accurately answer these questions, investigators need to know the precise life cycle of the blowflies. That’s where Parrott’s research comes in.

For the past two years, the forensic entomologist has been developing one of Arizona’s first and much-needed databases of forensically important blowflies to assist both crime scene investigators and the courts. The data will help determine more accurate and robust time-of-death estimations from insect evidence.

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

“Up until now, this data was missing,” says Parrott, who works in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

"What makes our research unique is that there has not been any developmental or DNA data available prior to our project,” says Parrott, who is also an executive committee member of ASU’s Future of Forensic Science Initiative — a transdisciplinary hub of scientists and practitioners pioneering a world-class intellectual space for forensic science. “We are cataloging both morphological and genetic data."


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