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Abstract

Diatoms are unicellular, photosynthetic, eukaryotic organisms often classified as among the algae. There are around 15 000 known species, but many more have yet to be described. Their uniqueness lies in the siliceous covering of the cell, each being encased in a pair of silica valves. Silica is virtually inert and indestructible, so after the organism’s death the silica parts remain. The silica parts provide information for the classification of these diverse organisms. Diatoms have been used in forensic science in a variety of ways, the most frequent being the diagnosis of death by drowning. When a person drowns, water will enter the lungs and then enter the bloodstream through ruptures in the peripheral alveoli before being carried to the other organs such as the liver and heart. Naturally, the microscopic contents of the water, which will include diatoms, will pass into the blood as well. The detection of diatoms in the organs can contribute to a diagnosis of death by drowning, a process referred to as the ‘diatom test’ We will discuss this test in more detail, illustrating our discussion with real examples.

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