One of palaeontology‘s great themes of questioning is the rise of novelty: how new structures and functions arise in specific lineages. In this episode we speak with Neil Shubin, Professor of Organismal Biology at the University of Chicago, who has been studying novelty in the context of the vertebrate transition from water to land.
Neil studies the fossil record of early tetrapods, the first vertebrates with limbs, to understand what changes underpinned this great transition. The other half his lab uses molecular techniques on living organisms to see how changes to the development of appendages (and their underlying genetic architecture) effected the shift from a fin to a limb.
In this interview, we hear about his fieldwork in the Arctic and Antarctic, how palaeontologists decide where to look for key fossils, why development matters, and about his deep involvement in science communication.
UChicago grad student Justin Lemberg’s reconstruction of suction feeding and biting in gars- created by combining video recordings of live animals with specially contrast enhanced CT scans. The feeding mechanics of the gar are suggested as a good analogy for those of Tiktaalik.