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CT Scans Help Re-create Dinosaur Behavior

May 22, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Musculoskeletal Radiology
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CT scans have helped bring a 150 million-year-old dinosaur back to life—sort of.

Researchers at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, scanned high-resolution casts of the skull and the neck bones of an allosaurus. They used a Toshiba Aquilion 64 machine at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens.

The scanning kicked off the process of figuring out how the giant, long-extinct predator would have moved its head and eaten its prey. Engineers fed data from the scans into a computer model. They added other information, including clues from the bones about muscle attachments and knowledge of the anatomical structure of such modern-day dinosaur relatives as birds and crocodilians. Mechanical engineer John Cotton, PhD, explained:

The engineering approach combines all the biological data—things like where the muscle forces attach and where the joints stop motion—into a single model. We can then simulate the physics and predict what allosaurus was actually capable of doing.

Dr. Cotton is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Russ College of Engineering and Technology. He was quoted in an Ohio University news release.

The researchers’ computer model reconstructed neck and jaw muscles, sinuses, the windpipe, and other soft tissues. You can see a cool animated version here. The open-access online journal Palaeontologia Electronica published an article about the research this week.

Eric Snively, PhD, a paleontologist and lead author of the article, previously studied the most famous predatory dinosaur, tyrannosaurus. He and his fellow researchers determined that tyrannosaurus fed by grabbing a mouthful of flesh and shaking its head from side to side to tear off a piece, like modern crocodiles.

But differing muscle attachment points gave allosaurus different feeding behavior, Dr. Snively said. “Allosaurus was uniquely equipped to drive its head down into prey, hold it there, and then pull the head straight up and back with the neck and body, tearing flesh from the carcass … kind of like how a power shovel or backhoe rips into the ground.”

A 28-foot, three-ton dinosaur with big, sharp teeth digging into its prey like a backhoe—now there’s an image. Yikes. Still, it’s fascinating that, as a Web site for the researchers’ lab puts it, “This approach combining detailed soft-tissue reconstruction with sophisticated engineering-based modeling opens a new window to the past.”

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British scientists also use CT scans to study dinosaurs—in their case, to analyze brain growth patterns. For details, see our Facebook page.

Related seminar: Imaging Advances: Abdominal, Thoracic, Skeletal

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