A research professor from the Royal Veterinary College has played an important role in the production of a television programme in which a 12 metre-long carcase of a Tyrannosaurus rex is dissected on camera.
The resulting documentary, T rex Autopsy, will be broadcast on Sunday, June 7 worldwide on the National Geographic Channel (8pm in the UK).
Prof Hutchinson was the principal scientific consultant for the programme and ensured the latest evidence about the dinosaur’s body shape, which he has studied using digital modelling, was included in the physical model.
He also urged the production team to include the latest scientific evidence on the body covering of the T rex and other dinosaurs, which was likely to be a mix of scales, pebbly hide and bristly feathers, as well as patches of colour.
The documentary follows a group of scientists and a vet who dissect the T rex specimen, revealing the size and interior structure of its huge heart, bird-like lungs and air sac system, digestive tract (including contents revealing its diet) and other vital organs including the reproductive system to determine the dinosaur’s sex.
The documentary also shows how Prof Hutchinson’s research has helped revise understanding of a T rex as a living creature. Studies his team have carried out showed the T rex wasn’t as fast as a racehorse as many palaeontologists previously argued, but rather was no faster than a human due to constraints imposed by supporting its huge weight (more than six tonnes).
Prof Hutchinson said: “While such a dissection is utter fantasy, using a huge body of research scientists have built up, the documentary paints as accurate a portrait as is possible of the T rex, in an entertaining, if gory, fashion.
“How the tyrant king (or queen) of Cretaceous dinosaurs grew, fed, sensed its world and supported its huge bulk will all be addressed, with cutting-edge science and amazing monster-making technical skills.
“My feeling is this is going to be a landmark moment in engaging the public with the modern state of paleontological research.
“We can learn amazing things without needing time machines – science is a sort of time machine and documentaries like this use imagination, storytelling and special effects to get us the rest of the way towards understanding the past – what a collaboration.”