[asa] Finding Your Inner Fish

From: Randy Isaac <randyisaac@comcast.net>
Date: Thu Apr 16 2009 - 22:21:37 EDT

After less than 3 weeks away from this list, it is rather daunting to find over 200 unread notes. This is where a peer reviewer is needed--to help identify the ones to read!

I just returned from the Harvard Museum of Natural History where Neil Shubin gave a public lecture tonight to an SRO crowd. His book, "Finding Your Inner Fish" has been discussed on this list before and was highly recommended. I thought he was also an excellent speaker and gave a very good talk. I haven't read the book but I presume most of what he said is also in the book.

Most of the talk was about the discovery of Tiktaalik Roseae, a fossil of the Devonian period. It really is a classic story of scientific discovery. Years of intense search for the missing link between fish and tetrapods in the wrong place followed by a serendipitous discovery of a promising site in the arctic. Then many more years of difficult fossil hunting until the prize was found. More years of arduous work followed until the discovery was announced in 2006.

The description of the fossils (about 3 or 4 specimens have been found) was very interesting. It's not too hard to see the intermediate features between fish and tetrapods, notably in the neck and the limbs but also in the jaw. The most important bone that has not yet been found is a femur and they continue to return each year to hunt for one. It seems that the hip socket is peculiarly deep and they want to see how the femur connects to it.

The title of his book reflects his perspective that humans contain the essence of 3.5 billion years worth of life. Our genetic structure reflects elements of all the other organic structures. He noted that in the past 15-17 years, many of the Nobel prizes in medicine and related biological fields have been for studies on worms and parasites and other small species. He inferred that many of the critical processes in our own bodies were reflected in the "lower" life forms and could be more easily studied there. He also spoke of the comparison of human and shark embryos and he showed the early similarities of analogous structures in these embryos. As a fish paleontologist, he has been teaching a first-year anatomy course to the U of Chicago medical school. He tells them that all the major human structures were all first seen in fish.

Some of you have read the book and can probably recount this more accurately. I thought it was a remarkable story. The evolutionary paradigm led to a prediction of the kind of rocks and geologic time frame where fossils such as this could be found. The prediction was borne out in a most dramatic fashion. It really is a storybook case.


To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Thu Apr 16 22:22:23 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Apr 16 2009 - 22:22:24 EDT