Friday 21 October 2016

T. rex dissection to be broadcast

Published 04/06/2015 | 15:11

Doctors examine a foot as they take part in an autopsy of an anatomically complete recreation of a Tyrannosaurus rex (National Geographic Channels/PA Wire)
Doctors examine a foot as they take part in an autopsy of an anatomically complete recreation of a Tyrannosaurus rex (National Geographic Channels/PA Wire)

Scientists have dissected an anatomically complete recreation of a Tyrannosaurus rex in a documentary to be broadcast this weekend.

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Described as "half gruesome monster film and all science", the film sees four experts saw through fake bone, wade through "blood" and slice through "muscle" to determine how the 65 million-year-old beast may have lived and died.

The National Geographic Channel film, T. rex Autopsy, offers the scientists the opportunity to explore questions such as whether T. rex had feathers, how it fed with tiny arms and whether it was primarily a hunter or scavenger.

They also examine how it digested food, how old it lived to be, how it procreated and whether it was warm-blooded like a mammal or cold-blooded like a reptile.

Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh said taking part in the documentary was a highlight of his career.

He said: "The model is incredible, very, very life-like, and I think it is a totally new type of documentary, showing people what they were like as real living animals.

"We're not pretending that we found a real T. rex but we're saying if we were able to cut up a T. rex what would we find.

"The science is airtight because many, many scientists were consulted on it."

Dr Brusatte said the show has changed the way he sees the dinosaur.

He said: "I know a lot about bones but my image of T. rex has always been as a skeleton.

"Taking part in this has helped me see T. rex as a real 3D animal, seeming much more lifelike."

Tori Herridge, a palaeobiologist at the Natural History Museum in London, was also involved.

She said: "The chance to take palaeontological evidence and transform that into something tangible in the real world, something we can all recognise and appreciate without expert knowledge, is very special.

"Not to give too much away, but one of the most interesting things we learnt is that the size of the T. rex heart was not 1% of the body size that is typical in mammals and birds, it was actually smaller than we might have predicted.

"A bigger heart just would not have fit inside the chest cavity. It took delving under its dual rib cages, getting blood all over my arms, to find that out."

The other scientists involved were British vet, author and TV presenter Luke Gamble and Matthew T Mossbrucker, d irector and chief curator of Morrison Natural History Museum in Colorado.

The dimensions and proportions of the model built for T. rex Autopsy were based on CT scans of the bones of T. rex specimen Sue, the largest, most complete and best-preserved T. rex specimen to be found.

The model T. rex is 43ft long from nose to tail, 12ft from toe to hip and weighed close to 400kg.

It took a specialist team of sculptors, mould makers, technicians, fabricators and artists close to 10,000 hours to build the model, which is made primarily of latex rubber, polyurethane foam, silicone rubber, polystyrene and glass reinforced plastic.

The fake blood was made of golden syrup, food colouring and water while an artificial scent was added to the stomach contents to give the experts a sense of what a rotting digestive system would have smelt like.

The two-hour documentary will premiere on Sunday at 8pm on the National Geographic Channel.

Press Association

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