Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Neil Shubin

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 0307277453

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Details on a Major New Discovery included in a New AfterwordWhy do we look the way we do? Neil Shubin, the paleontologist and professor of anatomy who co-discovered Tiktaalik, the “fish with hands,” tells the story of our bodies as you've never heard it before. By examining fossils and DNA, he shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our heads are organized like long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genomes look and function like those of worms and bacteria. Your Inner Fish makes us look at ourselves and our world in an illuminating new light. This is science writing at its finest—enlightening, accessible and told with irresistible enthusiasm.

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clue to an animal’s diet, the fossil record can give us a good window on how different ways of feeding came about. This is particularly true of mammal history: whereas many reptiles have similar teeth, those of mammals are distinctive. The mammal section of a typical paleontology course feels almost like Dentistry 101. Living reptiles—crocodiles, lizards, snakes—lack much of what makes mammalian mouths unique. A crocodile’s teeth, for example, all have a similar blade-like shape; the only

place to look; Ted is patient and knows when to sit on a site to mine it for its riches. Ted and I began a survey of the Devonian rocks of Pennsylvania in hopes of finding new evidence on the origin of limbs. We began by driving to virtually every large roadcut in the eastern part of the state. To our great surprise, shortly after we began the survey, Ted found a marvelous shoulder bone. We named its owner Hynerpeton, a name that translates from Greek as “little creeping animal from Hyner.”

not aggregate to form ropes or sheets as collagens do in animals. Likewise, some of the sugars that make up proteoglycan complexes inside our cartilage are seen in the walls of different kinds of bacteria. Their functions in both viruses and bacteria are not particularly pleasant. They are associated with the ways that these agents invade and infect cells and, in many cases, become more virulent. Many of the molecules that microbes use to cause us misery are primitive versions of the molecules

earth’s oxygen increased, bodies appeared everywhere. Life would never be the same. CHAPTER EIGHT MAKING SCENTS In the early 1980s, there was tension between molecular biologists and people who worked on whole organisms—ecologists, anatomists, and paleontologists. Anatomists, for example, were seen as quaintly out-of-date, hopelessly entranced by an antiquated kind of science. Molecular biology was revolutionizing our approach to anatomy and developmental biology, so much so that the

relationships between living creatures, visit http://tolweb.org/tree/. The notion that our evolutionary history has medical implications has been the subject of several good recent books. For comprehensive and well-referenced treatments, see N. Boaz, Evolving Health: The Origins of Illness and How the Modern World Is Making Us Sick (New York: Wiley, 2002); D. Mindell, The Evolving World: Evolution in Everyday Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006); R. M. Nesse and G. C.

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