Forensic Biology
How are Diatoms Helpful in Forensic Science?

How are Diatoms Helpful in Forensic Science?

Diatoms belonging to the algae Bacillariophyceae are some 16,000 species found in kidneys or attached to solids in all the earth’s water. Diatoms are among the most important and largest marine organisms and act directly or indirectly as food for many animals.

Diatomaceous earth, a substance composed of mineral diatoms, is used for filtering, blocking, abrasives, paints, and varnishes and as a basis for dynamite.

Diatoms can be unicellular or colonial. Diatoms are usually subdivided into two orders on the basis of their proportions and shapes. Centrales around circles with differing markers; the Pennales are fused, moving in a sliding motion, with feather-like markings. [1].

Diatoms are important as:

• They provide a food chain base for both marine and freshwater and animal larvae.

• They are the main source of oxygen for 20-30% of the world’s carbon footprint

• They can act as environmental advocates for climate change

• They builds the foundation for other household items such as insect repellent and less aggression. [2]

Many suggestions have been made [3] that diatom testing will be very useful in the study of drowning cases.


In 1942, Incze showed that, during drowning, diatoms can enter the circulatory system through the lungs. Their presence can be manifested in such tissues as the liver, brain, and bone marrow following the digestion of acid in the tissues.

Their use as a drowning diagnostic test is based on the assumption that diatoms will not enter the circulation of the system and are implanted in organs such as bone marrow unless the radiation is still active thus meaning that a decent person lives in water.

Before diatoms can be tested, they must be cleaned. This includes the removal of the contents of cells, pigs, sand, mud, or anything else that may interfere with the microscope testing. [4]


The observation of morphological diatoms was performed using both transmitting and scanning electron microscopes that provide a more detailed image compared to a compact microscope.

These microscopes are needed for tax purposes, the difference between native species is so small from time to time. Electron or microscopy of the black phase is currently the method used for analysis. This allows for more detailed thinking than simple microscopy [5,6].


Diatoms have been used in forensic science in a variety of ways, most commonly found in drowning deaths. When a person drowns, water will enter the lungs and enter the bloodstream through a rupture in the peripheral alveoli before being transported to other organs such as the liver and heart.

Living diatoms and other algae from a freshwater.
Living diatoms and other algae from a freshwater

Naturally, very little water content, which will include diatoms, will also pass into the bloodstream. The discovery of diatoms in the organs can help in the diagnosis of drowning death, a process called the ‘diatom test’.

Significant criticism of the suitability of diatom testing for the ability of ante-mortem testing and post-mortem diatoms and the discovery of diatoms in non-digestible bodies.

The presence of high-density diatoms is required in a low-lying area for drowning to get good results. Quality analysis and measurement of diatoms can be done by obtaining diatoms from samples and by counting the number of species.

Diatom testing is important even though sometimes diatoms can also be found in the internal organs of immersed bodies. Advanced technologies such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), Fluorimetry, Molecular biological techniques, Automatic Diatom Identification and Classification (ADIAC) can be used to detect diatoms soon [7].

Diatoms found living between crystals of annual sea ice in Antarctica, showing a multiplicity of sizes, shapes, and colors
Diatoms found living between crystals of annual sea ice in Antarctica, showing a multiplicity of sizes, shapes, and colors.


  3. Auer A (1991) Qualitative diatom analysis as a tool to diagnose drowning. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 12: 213-218.
  4. Verma K (2013) Role of Diatoms in the World of Forensic Science. J Forensic Res 4: 181. doi:10.4172/2157-7145.1000181.
  5. Pollanen MS, Cheung C, Chiasson DA (1997) The diagnostic value of the diatom test for drowning, I. Utility: a retrospective analysis of 771 cases of drowning in Ontario, Canada. J Forensic Sci 42: 281-285.
  6. Timperman J (1969) Medico-legal problems in death by drowning. Its diagnosis by the diatom method. A study based on investigations carried out in Ghent over a period of 10 years. J Forensic Med 16: 45-75.
  7. : Ajay R, Sakshi M. Significance of Diatoms in Diagnosis of Drowning Deaths: A Review. Peer Re J Foren & Gen Sci 1(5)- 2018. PRJFGS. MS.ID.000121. DOI: 10.32474/PRJFGS.2018.01.000121.

By GV SAI SOUMYA, “She has completed her Masters in Raksha Shakti University in Gujarat with specialization Biology, Serology, and DNA.”

Forensic yard contibutor

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