Scientific detective work by University of Otago
researcher Andrea Donaldson could pave the way for a
revolutionary new and more accurate way of determining the time
of death, during murder investigations.
Mrs Donaldson (35) will graduate from Otago University today
with a biochemistry PhD focusing on identifying blood test
biomarkers which could more precisely determine the time of
She will be among about 370 people who will graduate in
person with a wide range of qualifications, including in
consumer and applied sciences and physical education, in a
4pm ceremony at the Dunedin Town Hall. Since she was a child
she has been interested in solving murderous crimes, and had
read several forensic studies before leaving secondary
She has already completed an MSc at Otago, focusing on an
innovative analysis of blood-spatter evidence, which
attracted an inquiry from interested police investigators in
the United States.
During her more recent PhD studies she had been striving to
identify biomarkers in the bloodstream, such as proteins or
metabolites, to help clarify when a person has died.
Metabolites include materials such as glucose which are
produced during metabolic processes.
Determining the time of death was often the ''most
sought-after piece of information'' and ''one of the most
important things'' in a death investigation, she said.
Such knowledge was crucial, for example, in helping to
include or exclude suspects, based on their whereabouts.
But current methods for estimating the time of death -
including measuring body temperature, rigor mortis and insect
activity - often left large windows of time and sometimes
contradicted each other.
She is believed to be one of the first researchers to study
the use of biochemical blood markers to determine the time of
death and her early results have been ''very promising''.
She has identified 30 metabolites and 12 proteins in blood as
Mrs Donaldson, who is a qualified nurse, will soon undertake
forensic mental health nursing in Hamilton, but hopes to gain
funding to continue further biochemical research into
determining the time of death.