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.
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.