Your Inner Fish:
A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body
by Neil Shubin
Reviewed by Angela Leroux-Lindsey
It was the transition of animals from land to water that fascinated Shubin: why did they leave their native environments? How exactly did they evolve? What do the answers indicate about our own evolution? In this accessible and fascinating book, Shubin delivers as much of an anatomy lesson as a paleontological one in his discourse about the history of the human body. Using evidence found in fossils and DNA—particularly his watershed discovery of the “missing-link” Tiktaalik fossil in 2006—he proves that the human body is descended from ancient fish; that the changes from fins to limbs were the building blocks of skeletal structure that has remained essentially the same for hundreds of millions of years across species both existing and extinct. Our forearm has the same bone structure as that of a dog’s limb, or a bat wing, or a shark fin. The same gene that initiates eye development in humans performs the same function in mice and flies—in fact, implant a mouse eye gene into an embryonic fly, and a fly eye develops. Imagine the possibilities.
ANGELA LEROUX-LINDSEY is the Book Review Editor of The Adirondack Review.
Shubin’s account of his adventures is thrilling, and reinforces the humanity of scientific discovery. Much in the way physicists peer into space to find clues about the nature of primordial ooze or evidence of the Big Bang to apply to current advances in particle physics, paleontology is essential as a bridge from the study of primitive life to genetic mapping and DNA analysis. Factor in the mind-bending idea that evolution has produced in us a species equipped to investigate and deduce the origin of species, and the brilliant work of Shubin and his peers becomes transcendent.