Maggot Girl passes on forensic bug

November 17, 2006

As nicknames go, "Maggot Girl" might not be considered one of the most flattering, but Michelle Harvey wears it with pride.

Dr Harvey, who has been appointed senior lecturer at Portsmouth University's School of Biological Sciences, is a forensic entomologist involved in investigating suspicious deaths. Her ground-breaking research uses the DNA of insects to help estimate time of death, hence her friends' nickname for her.

Dr Harvey was at the University of Western Australia, where she won a Sir Keith Murdoch Fellowship. This allowed her to spend a year at the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility, immortalised as "the Body Farm" by crime writer Patricia Cornwell.

She also spent a year investigating crime scenes with police in South Africa while on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.

Dr Harvey observes the different progress of insects depending on whether the body is buried, clothed or wrapped in plastic. She is also investigating how human DNA from maggots' stomachs can help to identify someone.

Television shows such as CSI had helped to promote forensic science to students, Dr Harvey said. "The students love the maggots. They really appreciate their role in decomposition. They find entomology has a lot more going for it than they expected."

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