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Diagnosing the aetiology of infectious diseases at autopsy, such as pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis or SUDI, is complicated due to issues including post mortem contamination, difficulty culturing fastidious organisms and subjective interpretation of polymicrobial cultures. Death of organisms may also occur post mortem, especially if antibiotics were given to the patient, but residual DNA from non-viable organisms, amenable to molecular detection, may remain. The 16S rRNA gene is present in all bacteria with conserved and hyper-variable regions along its length, allowing amplification and sequencing of all bacterial 16S sequences present in a sample. 16S sequencing offers potential advantages over culture-based diagnostics and is increasingly used in clinical practice. It has been used to identify bacteria in formalin fixed paraffin embedded (FFPE) surgical pathology specimens but its use has not been reported in autopsy diagnosis. This talk will summarise a study aimed to assess the utility of 16S sequencing as an adjunctive microbiological test in the autopsy. Our preliminary work has used post mortem lung tissue samples from children dying with pneumonia as part of the Pneumonia Etiology Research for Child Health (PERCH) project. The technique has identified known pathogens in some cases and provided additional diagnostic information in others. The presentation will discuss the technical aspects of 16S sequencing from FFPE and autopsy material, and the issues surrounding its application to diagnosis in comparison with standard culture based diagnostics on surgical/autopsy material.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date



46 Suppl 2