August Bayside Talks: Finding Your Inner Fish - August 8
Published: June 17, 2012
|Professor Neil Shubin and Tiktaalik © Neil Shubin
It may seem like a pretty big stretch if you look in a mirror, but our bodies have developed and are arranged like those of our ancient predecessors: not just apes–but fish, worms and even bacteria.
These are some of the remarkable findings in Neil Shubin’s 2006 New York Times best-seller, Your Inner Fish. On Wednesday August 8, at 7:30pm, Shubin, a paleontologist, professor of anatomy at the University of Chicago and Wellfleet summer resident, will give a presentation demonstrating how our nervous system is wired like a shark’s and our limbs developed from fish fins.
Shubin’s book was in part the result of his groundbreaking “missing link” fossil discovery in the Canadian arctic: a fresh water fish that lived 375 million years ago and may have been the first to have the ability to lift itself out of the water onto land– a predecessor of all terrestrial animals, including us.
The fossil, though a fish, had a flat head with eyes on top, as well as a neck–something other fish lacked.
Shubin says the discovery of this fossil serves to underscore the story of evolution: That land animals have descended—not from all fish—but from certain kinds of fish; fish with gills and lungs and other mixed traits. “Every time you turn your neck or bend your wrist, you can thank this fish and its evolutionary cousins,” he says.
But according to Shubin, what makes us the way we are today goes back even farther in time, to invertebrates and microbes. “The way our physiologically is arranged today reflects our origins from different life forms,” Shubin says. “We may not look like sea anemones and jellyfish, but the recipe that builds us is a more intricate version of the one that builds them.” Even prehistoric worms, he says, had an early nerve cord that ran along their bodies. That cord also exists in developing human embryos and eventually ends up as disks between our adult vertebrae.
The book also provides a new look at how our modern lifestyles clash with our physiological evolution and lead to some common ailments and diseases. “The way blood moves through veins from the feet back to the heart relies in part on pumping from leg muscles in motion,” Shubin explains. “But with so many people today sitting at desks or behind the wheels of cars, our blood tends to pool, causing varicose veins and even hemorrhoids.”
Shubin’s story of finding the fossil, named Tiktaalik (the Inuit word for fresh water fish), is as interesting as the fossil itself. Shubin and his team first had to determine the time period for the theoretical creature to have lived, its likely habitat, where the habitat would have existed at that time, and the most likely spot to search for any remains from that period. It was an effort that combined elements of geology, paleontology and extreme camping, 1000 miles south of the North Pole.
We invite you to hear Neil Shubin discuss his fascinating book as well as his 2004 discovery of the fish with a neck, elbows and wrists.
Pre-registration required. Register online or call 508-349-2615