88 | Neil Shubin on Evolution, Genes, and Dramatic Transitions

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“What good is half a wing?” That’s the rhetorical question often asked by people who have trouble accepting Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Of course it’s a very answerable question, but figuring out what exactly the answer is leads us to some fascinating biology. Neil Shubin should know: he is the co-discoverer of Tiktaalik Roseae, an ancient species of fish that was in the process of learning to walk and breathe on land. We talk about how these major transitions happen — typically when evolution finds a way to re-purpose existing organs into new roles — and how we can learn about them by studying living creatures and the information contained in their genomes.

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Neil Shubin received his Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University. He is currently the the Robert Bensley Distinguished Service Professor and Associate Dean of Biological Sciences at the University of Chicago. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical society. His first book, Your Inner Fish, was chosen by the National Academy of Sciences as the best science book of 2009, and was subsequently made into a TV special. His new book is Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA.

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