Shubin helps students dig up their inner fish

Posted by Rebecca Orbach & Alex Brehm

Approximately 600 students and faculty gathered in Arthur Zankel Music Center this past Monday to hear paleontologist Dr. Neil Shubin share findings from his research and argue that humans have likely evolved from fish.

Shubin's book, "Your Inner Fish" was the assigned summer reading for the college's first year students. The book is a journey through the 3.5 billion year history of the human body.

Shubin regaled the audience with his personal journeys through Pennsylvania and the North and South Poles while looking for rocks and fossils of fish.

In Philadelphia Shubin and his colleagues found arm bones in amphibians that have the same position and similar shape as they have in humans. They also found jaws the length of human arms, but teeth the size of railroad spikes. Shubin started his career hypothesizing that a flat-headed fish would display a likely step in the evolution from fish to mammal.

He showed photos of himself and his colleagues digging by the side of a train track in Philadelphia. "Here we are digging ancient beasts out of the side of the road, with modern cars and trucks whizzing by on the highway," Shubin said.

After extensive research, Shubin realized that there were ancient rocks that had been completely unexplored in the Arctic Islands and they were of the right age to match his theories.

It took about one year to raise enough money to travel to the North Pole, but in 2000 Shubin and his colleagues finally arrived and set up camp in the Arctic. "We spent most days walking around looking for bones on the surface because in the Arctic there's a freezing fog. The cold breaks up the rocks and bones come up on the surface," Shubin said.

After days of hiking and searching for the proper fossils, one of Shubin's colleagues found tens of thousands of broken-up fish bones piled on top of each other. They also found the snout of a flat-headed fish on Elsner Island. "This fish had fins with bones that correspond to your forearms," Shubin said.

Shubin took the audience through a few specific examples of body parts that seemingly evolved from fish. "You have an entire tree of life inside your ear. I could trace them from gill bones and sharks," Shubin said.

By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin showed that human hands resemble fish fins, human heads are organized like those of long-extinct jawless fish and that major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria.

"People look at Albert Einstein and see the pinnacle of humanity; I see him as a giant fish," Shubin said.

Weapons of mass reflections

SGA election results