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2021 Boyd Lecture

Neil Shubin
Neil Shubin
Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy
The University of Chicago
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Finding Your Inner Fish: From Expeditions to Enhancers


Studies of fossils, embryos and genes can tell us surprising new things about the great transformations in the history of life.  Here we will show how we designed expeditions to search for fish with arms, legs, and wrists.  Using those discoveries, we can make hypotheses about the relationship between limbs and fins.  Analyses of fin and limb development reveals that many of the genes involved in patterning the wrists and digits of tetrapods are not only present in fish, they are active in specifying the pattern of the distal segment of fins.  Together, analyses of fossils, embryos and genes reveal the deep antecedents of tetrapod novelties in fish.


Trained at Columbia University, Harvard University, and The University of California at Berkeley  Neil Shubin is currently Robert R. Bensley Distinguished Service Professor of Anatomy at The University of Chicago and Senior Advisor to the President of the University on the affiliation with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole.  He both leads fossil expeditions around the world and a molecular biology laboratory studying the great transitions in the history of life.  His team is widely known for the discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, an ancient fish right at the cusp of the transition to land 375 million years ago.

He is the author of three books, Your Inner Fish (Vintage 2009), The Universe Within (Vintage, 2011) and most recently Some Assembly Required (Pantheon, 2020). He served as presenter and scientific advisor for the Emmy Award Winning three part PBS miniseries Your Inner Fish derived from his book of the same title.  

Among his awards,  he has received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Biology Teachers and the Science Communication Award from the National Academy of Sciences.

He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the California Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fellow of the American Philosophical Society and Member of the National Academy of Sciences, to which he was elected in 2011.

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