City academic in TV T-Rex ‘autopsy’

Dr Steve Brusatte, left, and Matthew T Mossbrucker lift the T-Rex stomach out of the body
Dr Steve Brusatte, left, and Matthew T Mossbrucker lift the T-Rex stomach out of the body
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It was one of the most ferocious predators to ever walk the Earth – a towering giant with teeth like daggers and a stomach big enough to digest a four-year-old child.

Now a Tyrannosaurus rex is set to be dissected on TV for the first time ever by a team of top scientists and experts, including Edinburgh University academic Dr Steve Brusatte.

The once-in-a-lifetime experiment will see the world’s first full-size, anatomically complete model of a T-rex sliced open and prodded in a specially constructed biology lab – complete with realistic blood, plenty of gore and even the artificial scent of rotting flesh.

Described as “half gruesome monster film and all science”, the National Geographic Channel film – dubbed T-rex Autopsy – aims to shed light on how the 65-million-year-old beast may have lived and died.

And the creators of the show hope to lay to rest decades-old mysteries such as whether T-rex really 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.

Dr Steve Brusatte, a dinosaur expert based at Edinburgh University who has previously worked with the BBC, insisted the T-rex used in the show is “the single most realistic, accurate model of a dinosaur that’s ever been made”.

He said: “It’s an amazing thing to see. The chance to cut it up was a whole other dream come true.

“It’s not a real animal, and we make that very clear. But at the same time, we wanted to make it as realistic as possible – to make it bloody, to make it gory, just like you’d expect if you were cutting up a real animal of that size.

“Everybody knows T-rex – I think a lot of people have an image in their head of T-rex as some kind of movie monster, some kind of creature from a nightmare – but it was a real animal, and it would have had to do the things all animals do.”

The T-rex model measures nearly 43ft long from nose to tail and boasts eyes the size of grapefruits and terrifying 30 centimetre-long teeth.

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.

Dr Brusatte will be joined by top vet Dr Luke Gamble, and Dr Tori Herridge, a palaeobiologist at the Natural History Museum in London. Dr Herridge, who has previously conducted an autopsy on a woolly mammoth from the Ice Age, said: “The chance to take palaeontological evidence and transform that into something tangible in the real world, is very special.

“One of the most interesting things we learnt is that the size of the T-rex heart was not one per cent 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.”

T-rex Autopsy will be broadcast on Sunday at 8pm on the National Geographic channel.