May 16, 2014

I Trace My Roots To Tiktaalik, A 375 Million Year Old Fish

As a firm believer in the theory of evolution, it's with excitement buoyed by huge expectations that I watched the first installment of Your Inner Fish, a three-part series aired by PBS last April. Presented with enthusiasm by American paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Neil Shubin, the episode chronicles Shubin's search for a transitional fossil that will give more teeth to Charles Darwin's assertion that humanity evolved from a previously water-bound creature that existed hundreds of millions of years ago.

The episode culminated with the discovery of well-preserved fossils of the Tiktaalik on Ellesmore Island in Northern Canada by Shubin, Edward Daeschler and Farish Jenkins Jr. They named their discovery Tiktaalik through the suggestion of local Inuit elders. They published their findings in an issue of the scientific magazine Nature in 2006. Two years later, Shubin published a book titled Your Inner Fish which inspired the three-part series on PBS.

It's a very entertaining episode. Borrowing a page from the currently running Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on Fox, Your Inner Fish combines easy-to-understand narrative with huge doses of animation to get its points across to the viewer. It also effectively puts to light the immense and often painstaking work that scientists have to go through in their studies and research. It took Shubin and company a decade to finally find the transitional fossil that they were looking for. That in itself is a lifetime.

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