Monday, January 21, 2008

What's inside of us is 500m years old

HUMANS could be closer to pond life than had been realised. Researchers have linked a raft of our anatomical and genetic features with fishy ancestors that lived hundreds of millions of years ago.

They have found that the origin of human hands and fingers could lie in the emergence of a finned fish 365m years ago. Similarly, the sophisticated joints that give us the ability to run, grip and turn may owe their existence to a sea creature known as the tiktaalik that lived in the Arctic 375m years ago.

Even our acute vision may be a legacy of an even earlier ancestor, similar to a jellyfish, whose genes have been adapted to play a crucial role in the human eye.

“An entire tree of life, from microbe to worm, to fish and mammal, is embedded inside of us. We can uncover our past by studying fossils and understanding our DNA,” said Neil Shubin, professor of anatomy at Chicago University.

Shubin is about to publish his findings in a book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 billion-year History of the Human Body, which explores the links between humans and their most ancient forebears.

Shubin’s findings suggest that every bone in the human body first evolved from simple marine ancestors. Our wrists, the unique dexterity of the thumb, even the shape of our skulls, can be traced to origins in primitive sea creatures.

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