Howard Kaplan hkaplan at UDCVAX.BITNET
Sat Sep 25 15:02:08 EST 1993

This is in response to a "linux" at an undeliverable address, in
answer to a question asking whether bacterial decay of dead animals
was triggered by enzyme activation or temperature.  Since I
couldn't reach "linux" via REPLY, I'm posting my response here in
hopes it will reach him/her.

You're asking a leading question (actually questions).  They presuppose that
an enzyme has to be activated and/or a temperature has to be reached.  As to
the latter, an animal dying in a climate matching it's normal body temperature
(e.g. humans at 37 C) would decay much more rapidly than one dying at a lower
temperature.  Decay is a series of chemical processes and, as such, are temp-
erature dependent.  The other part of your question presupposes the necessity
of chemical activation when the processes that occur after death are the same
ones that occur during life.  The question, to me, should be, Why don't animals
decay during their lifetime?  A corollary might then be, What is it that allows
for them to decay when dead?
Without attempting to give an extended response (which I coudn't do, anyway),
part of the answer might be seen in what happens to cell membranes at the
moment of death.  These, by virtue of their selective permaeability, are part
of the body's defense system and their capabilities are energy dependant.  At
virtually the instant of death, the energy supply is cut off, the membranes
become freely permeable, lose their integrity and a massive infiltration of
protected compartments by Indigenous Bacteria takes place.  Most of these,
being saprophytes, just do their thing, the result being what we call decay.
Hope this helps.
                                Howard Kaplan

More information about the Bioforum mailing list