Our Ancestor Tiktaalik, The Fish with Elbows

Aug 07, 2018

How often have you heard people talk about inherited diseases or conditions that run in their family tree? For people suffering with heart disease or diabetes or even conditions like obesity and mental illness, it’s not uncommon to tick off predispositions to disorders that go way, way back. But just how far back is way, way back?

My guest today would suggest that your family tree goes back longer than you’ve ever imagined, that in fact deep similarities exist between creatures living today and those that lived millions of years ago, ancient worms, living sponges, various kinds of fish. And it’s precisely because our bodies evolved from these creatures, and to this day contain elements that remain remarkably similar, that we are doomed to fall apart in predictable ways.

Neil Shubin is a paleontologist and professor of anatomy who co-discovered Tiktaalik, an ancient fish with elbows and a neck composed of the same bones as the upper arm, forearm, and wrist in a human. He’s the author of Your Inner Fish, a book that explains how we carry the whole history of evolution within our bodies, and how the human genome links us with the rest of life on earth.