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Home » Neil Shubin (U. Chicago): The Evolution of Limbs from Fins

Neil Shubin (U. Chicago): The Evolution of Limbs from Fins

Neil Shubin is interested in understanding how human limbs evolved from fish fins. To answer this question, Shubin searched for a fossil intermediate between fish and tetrapods. Far in the Canadian arctic, he and his colleagues found Tiktaalik roseae, a 375 million year old fossil of a flat-headed fish with fin bones corresponding to limb and wrist bones. Shubin and his lab then switched gears and used developmental genetics to investigate the evolution of limb development. Specifically, they looked at Hox genes, known to be important in mammalian limb development. Comparing Gar fish and mouse, they found similar patterns of Hox gene expression in fish fins and mouse forelimbs. This combination of fossil and genetic evidence suggests that the distal regions of fish fins evolved into wrist bones in mammals.

Speaker Biography:
Dr. Neil Shubin is a Professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago. Shubin’s research focuses on understanding the evolutionary origins of new anatomical features such as limbs. Shubin is well known for his discovery of Tiktaalik roseae,the 375 million year old fossil link between fish and tetrapods. Shubin is the author of two popular science books including Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion Year History of the Human Body, named best book of 2008 by the National Academies of Science. Shubin is an elected member of the National Academy of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


26 thoughts on “Neil Shubin (U. Chicago): The Evolution of Limbs from Fins”

  1. I've been a huge fan of Shubin's ever since the release of the PBS Evolution series. My advanced biology class reads Your Inner Fish, followed by a viewing of two episodes from the series. This video provides a great succinct overview for my younger students.

    I'm such a huge Shubin fan, that I named my first child Tiktaallic. Joke.

  2. Neil Shubin, I swear your's and everybody else's work can't be appreciated enough. Every time I think of the awe-striking and breath-taking view of the cosmos and the life within it that scientist struggle diligently to uncover, I find myself reflecting on a presentation just like this one where that discovery is showcased in all of its glory. Awesome story and don't stop exploring the natural world.

  3. 9:50 Are we looking at ancent fish/tetrapods (pre-amphibians)? So, did ancient fish have skeletal structure which resemble humans, or did that resemblance only come about during the transition with Tiktaalik? If the latter, then did ancient fish branch off in at least two directions, one resulting in the line to amphibians, mammals, primates, humans, and another to…present day fish? If so, it makes our line branching to humans seem extraordinary, and the branch which leads to present day fish seem mundane. Am I nearly grasping these concepts? It's hard to pay close attention when I'm often squinting, looking away, and remarking, "Ew, gross."

  4. This is my first viewing of anything by Dr. Shubin. I'm happy and impressed to see it, but although I have the biology background to digest 95% of it, I think a bit more watered down explanations are needed if this sort of strong evidence for evolutionary development is going to convince creationists. Good job, all! Keep it up.

  5. The way you explain everything is really commendable and makes it easy to understand. Im a doctor in making. But i have always found evolutionary biology fascinating as i am always left wondering how the intricacies of human biology correlate with that of extant and extinct animals! Great work!

  6. Um no. There are animals on Earth today that we have found fossils of that date back hundreds of millions of years. Take the giant salamander. It lives now and we have found fossils of in that date back 170 million years. The giant salamander is considered a living fossil and hasn't "evolved' in 170 million years. He says that he is going to look for a fossil of the transitional fossil, then he finds a fossil and claims that it is a transitional fossil. BS. This is a flat headed fish meaning that it is an ambush predictor. It has fins. It lays on the bottom of the body of water that it lives in and waits for it's prey to pass over head. He believes in the theory of evolution. He has faith that the theory is true much like people who believe that a God, have faith that a God created the Earth and creatures. Yes I know that he is a scientist but that doesn't mean that he is correct. His belief, his faith is what drives him to use science to try and prove his beliefs when the purpose of science is to find and know the truth and the truth is that science has not proved that evolution is a fact no matter how many charts and explanations evolutionists come up with. Look at dolphins. They spend their entire life time in water. In the ocean. So why do they breath air? Why don't they have gills? Why would they breath air if they live in water and not on land? Why haven't they evolved legs so that they can crawl onto land? Evolutionists say that fish evolve and develope lungs so that they can crawl out of the water and onto land so why haven't dolphins, whales and other air breathing sea creatures evolved legs? And why are there creatures on this Earth today that have not changed, evolved in 100's of millions of years? They live here on the Earth today and we have fossil records of them living here hundreds of millions of years ago. Now that is a fact!

  7. Wrist bones in it's fins? If it evolved to crawl on land it would have developed 4 legs and feet. He showed pictures of arms and wrists and hands but according to the theory of evolution fins magically evolved into 4 legs and feet and then 2 of the legs and feet magically evolved into arms and hands.

  8. The method is First presume phenomenon occurred without any evidence and
    then call it a fact even though empirical evidence or the "scientific method" yet
    confirms life never transitions in such fashion could not be more obvious

  9. Ooops. Gotta keep Acanthostega out of the transition series. Those eight fingers are apomorphies not shared by derived taxa. Acanthostega was heading BACK into the water. Likewise let's keep Tulerpeton out of the transitional series. It turns out to be a Reptilomorph and that extra digit in the manus is from the other manus beneath it. The extra toe is a mistaken reconstruction. Key to understanding the fin to finger transition is Trypanognathus, an overlooked taxon with four small limbs with four small fingers, as in Tiktaalik and Panderichthys. Details here:

  10. Neil Shubin seem to be a real scientist. What characterize a scientific mind is that like a book, it needs to be open to work. With that said, I cannot understand the narrow minded conflict between creationists and scientist. Obviously Charlie Darwin was spot on correct with the evolution theory and Earth wasn't created i 7 days, that's obviously a lot of hard wash. But, with that said, how can anyone calling him-, her-self a scientist deny God, spirits or other non proven activity? That kind of arrogance is not a sign of enlightenment but rather the contrary, that's what made Socrates one of the greatest.

    Having that said, from a scientific point of view, there isn’t any contradiction between a creationist and a scientist as long as the creationist understands that in the case of God creating life, it was done as Charles Darwin explained. The hard core believers from both the mentioned categories only show their own ignorance and lack of perspective claiming the other to be completely wrong.

    To the evolutionist lacking a scientific mind I’d like them to ask themselves to explain the impulse and specially the force behind the mRNA and tRNA when copying the DNA? From where comes the attraction force of the disulfide bridges between the amino-acid Systein to form the tertiary structure of the proteins? Quantum physics describe how we actually all are ghosts… the list of the fascinating and unknown is long. Life as a force can today be observed in detail and evolution is obviously a must to comply with self-preservation of the species as Darwin explained but as a phenomena still not explained. I'm not saying that therefor it has to be God that created it but how can anyone deny that it could be the case. It's just as fascinating with the creationists denying that Darwin was right as it is with the so called scientists denying God as a response of what science discovered!

    Those are my reflexions made with my very limited brain capacity and with a disclaimer that I could very well be wrong about my point of view.

  11. If you're interested in the early development of Tetrapods, I'd suggest, 'At The Waters Edge: Fish With Fingers, Whales With Legs' by Carl Zimmer. My copy is from 1999 and I don't know if there is a newer edition but it goes through alot of history from Owen to Save-Soderbergh, Jennifer Clack and Per Ahlberg, Deaschler and Shubin, etc and talks about the development of the field and interviews alot of folks like the latter. It was before the discovery of Tiktaalik bit it's still awesome, even goes into Alan Turnings work in biology

    'Gaining Ground' by Jennifer Clack, and 'How Vertebrates Left the Water' by Michel Laurin are also really good but more in depth.

  12. 2 TIMOTHY 2 16/1TIMOTHY 6 20
    Trying to provide an alternate substitute for ID Materialism, a belief system
    complexity is reducible, back– engineers already designed organisms, then
    renders purely only presumptions about how they could have by accident
    self assembled

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