Role of Diatoms in Diagnosis of Death Due to Drowning: Case Studies

N Kaushik, S K Pal, A Sharma, G Thakur



Background: The most frequent use of diatoms in forensic science is the diagnosis of death due to drowning. The basic principle of diatom test in drowning is based on the inference that diatoms are present in medium where drowning took place and the inhaled water enters the alveolar spaces of lungs and penetrates from the alveoli into the blood circulation, thus microscopic unicellular algae called diatoms get transported to different organs of body. The diatoms found inside the body of drowned victim may serve as corroborative or even conclusive evidence to support the diagnosis of death. It can be ascertained whether the drowning is ante-mortem or post-mortem.

Case Report: The present study was conducted in Biology and Serology Division of State Forensic Science Laboratory, Shimla Hills Junga, Himachal Pradesh, India. Water sample from putative site of drowning as well as hard bones (sternum, clavicle, femur), soft tissue (spleen, liver, kidney) and peritoneal/pleural cavity fluid after post-mortem examination of dead body was sent to the Laboratory for the detection of diatoms. Cases were opened and processed following standard methodology. In the present study, 17 cases of drowning were examined for detection of diatoms. Out of seventeen cases, there were 15 males and 2 females aged between 11-63 years. 12 cases revealed the presence of diatoms (death due to drowning) while 5 were found to be negative (death other than drowning).

Conclusion: The present study revealed the importance of diatom test in forensic investigation and diagnosis of death due to drowning. Diatom test proved very significant application in forensic science in solving the drowning cases.


Diatoms, Drowning, Bone Marrow, Acid Digestion, Microscopy, Detection

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