Persistence of spermatozoa on decomposing human skin: A scanning electron microscopy study

D. Gibelli, D. Mazzarelli, A. Rizzi, A. Kustermann, C. Cattaneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Finding spermatozoa is of the utmost importance in judicial cases involving both the living and the dead; however, most of literature actually deals with inner genitalia and does not take into consideration the chance of external deposition of semen on skin, which is not rare. In addition, the most advanced microscopic technologies such as scanning electron microscopy (SEM) have not been thoroughly investigated within this specific field of research. This study aims at applying SEM analysis to samples of decomposed skin in order to test its potential in detecting spermatozoa particularly in decomposed cadavers. A sample of skin was obtained at autopsy and divided into two thin strips; one of the samples was used as a negative control. Semen was then taken from a "donor" (with a normal spermiogram) and was spread onto the other skin sample. Every 3 days for the first 15 days (for a total of six samples), a standard slide was prepared from swabs on the treated and control skin and analyzed by standard light microscopy. In addition, every 7 days up to 91 days (3 months circa), a skin sample was taken from the positive and negative control and examined by SEM for a total of 14 samples. Results show that after 12 days, light microscopy failed in detecting spermatozoa, whereas they were still visible up to 84 days by SEM analysis. This study therefore suggests the persistence of sperm structures in time and in decomposing material as well as the possible application of SEM technology to decomposed skin in order to detect semen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)975-979
Number of pages5
JournalInternational Journal of Legal Medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013


  • Forensic pathology
  • SEM (Scanning Electron Microscopy)
  • Sexual abuse
  • Spermatozoa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Medicine(all)


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