DecompositionLeft to nature, scavengers will quickly take over a body, from vultures to flies. The further decomposition of the carrion is carried out by bacteria and fungi, which allow for recycling of the materials. All living things are made up mostly of carbon (C), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), oxygen (O), phosphorous (P), sulfur (S). Hydrogen and oxygen travel in the water cycle; nitrogen has its own cycle; phosphorous does, too; and so does carbon. To learn more about the process of decomposition, it may be edifying to visit a site that actually is designed to expose problems in government dealings with the Branch Davidians. Surprisingly, even the best-sealed caskets are not impermeable to decay. Within several hundred years it will still decay, though embalming may help. And in some places the land given over to cemeteries is not peremanently leased. One need only look at current archaeologial exhumations to realize no body is safe. A body without a coffin will be decayed within 12 years. Heat speeds up decay, but a dry climate can lead to mummification. The body is broken down both by its own enzymes (autolysis) and by those of bacteria. In some cases, bodies are subject to exposition, as with the Russian archive of brains or the brain of Einstein, which was taken on a cross-country tour of the United States.
Carbon is integrated into organic compounds during photosynthesis, serving as the backbone of these molecules. Carbon from dead organisms is broken down by decomposers and then taken up by plants again from the soil.
Phosphorous is part of ATP, which is the basic energy carrier in living molecules, as well as the DNA and RNA of the genetic code. The phosphorous from dead organisms is decomposed and taken up by plants and cycles through the ecosystem again.
Water makes up a significant portion of all living organisms, and serves as everything from an electron receptor in the electron transport chain of photosynthesis to part of blood plasma. When organisms die, the water from them is absorbed into the ground and air to be recycled.
Nitrogen makes up 78% of dry air, and is critical in the synthesis of proteins and DNA and RNA (which are composed of nitrogenous bases, in part). It cannot be directly taken up by plants in the form that it exists in dead organisms, and must be fixed by special bacteria on the roots of plants.
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