Neil Shubin Wows FCC With Tales of Discovery

March 22, 2017

Neil Shubin, an evolutionary biologist, paleontologist, and professor of anatomy at the University of Chicago, visited Fresno City College on March 15. He spoke in the Old Administration Building’s auditorium to tell the FCC student body and staff about his discoveries and what they mean for the human race.


In 2004, Shubin and his team of paleontologists discovered the fossil remains of a freshwater fish that contained clear evidence of evolution. This fish was named Tiktaalik by Shubin and his team, with the help of the native Inuits near where the fossils were found.


This discovery has been many years coming for Shubin and his team. Starting back when Shubin was hired for his first professorship in Pennsylvania, he had come across exposed rock that contained fossils from 360 million years ago along a Pennsylvania highway. In this exposed rock, they found teeth and jaw bones from fish and arm bones of tetrapods, four legged animals.


Through this discovery,  Shubin deduced that this rock face was a look into a time where there may have been limbed fish, fish that also have limbs like tetrapods. With this in mind, he set out to find a place with similar characteristics to the site in Pennsylvania.


Consulting a textbook, Shubin found the perfect location, the Fram Formation, a series of islands in the Arctic.With this location in mind, Shubin set out on his first expedition in 1999. This first expedition found the to far out into what used to be ocean, only finding remains of deep sea fish.


Consecutive expeditions got Shubin and his team closer to what they were looking for until 2004, when they discovered the fossils of a flat headed, freshwater fish with a neck, expanded ribs, and fins with bones in them that correspond to arm bones found in humans.


Shubin and his team asked the local Inuit counsel to help them come up with a name for the fish. When trying to explain what this fossil was, Shubin told them it was a fresh water fish and they said that it is a Tiktaalik. Shubin asked what that meant and they said that it means, “freshwater fish”.


Shubin said, “I hope that through the connection to fish, and other animals, that we can discover keys to our own bodies.” It is through this discovery that evidence is added to the theory of evolution that points that over millions of years life has adapted and changed from what it once was to what it is today.

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