The author and narrator of the book. Shubin is a paleontologist who studies fossils looking for information about evolutionary development. In the book, he primarily focuses on the Devonian period from 420 million years ago… (read full character analysis)
Shubin’s student and partner in Pennsylvania who worked with him to find fossils near Pennsylvania highways. Daeschler found the fossil Hynerpeton that catalyzed their trip to the Arctic circle to look for more fossils from the Devonian period.
A colleague of Shubin’s at Cambridge University and a fellow paleontologist who studied the fins of ancient fish and pinpointed the development of limbs meant for swimming.
Dr. Farish A. Jenkins, Jr.
Shubin’s graduate advisor at Harvard who joined the expedition to the Arctic to look for Devonian fossils.
A student on Shubin’s first Arctic expedition who found the first fossil bone fragments at the Arctic fossil site at Ellesmere Island.
One of Shubin’s colleagues who found a fish with a flat head on the Arctic expedition. This fish was later named Tiktaalik and became one of the best examples of the water-land transition discovered to date.
Sir Charles Bell
A Scottish surgeon who wrote the most important book on the anatomy of the human hand.
A scientist and natural biologist in the 1800s who studied new species in the Galapagos and started the theory of evolution by hypothesizing common ancestors for modern animals as an explanation for similar anatomical structures across different species.
A fossil preparator in Philadelphia who helped uncover the fin of the Tiktaalik fossil.
A fossil preparator at the University of Chicago who helped uncover a “wrist bone” in the fossil Tiktaalik.
A researcher in Shubin’s lab at the University of Chicago who performed experiments on the limb regions of shark and skate embryos.
An experienced paleontologist and fossil finder who worked with Farish Jenkins. Schaff taught Shubin how to find fossils by carefully looking for any difference in mineral quality in the Arizona desert.
An experienced paleontologist and fossil finder who worked with Farish Jenkins and joined Shubin’s fossil expedition to Nova Scotia. He found a key fossil containing teeth showing evidence of occlusion.
A leading fossil finder who worked at Columbia University and joined Shubin’s fossil expedition to Nova Scotia.
Karl Ernst von Baer
A natural philosopher (now known as biologist) in the 1800s who first studied chicken embryos and found the three germ layers common to all embryos.
A German embryologist in the early 20th century who studied how cells differentiate in the embryo to become a body.
A researcher in Spemann’s lab who found the Organizer tissue, a patch of cells that sends messages to other cells in order to build the proper body plan. Her research went un-credited for years, and led to Spemann’s Nobel prize.
Cliff Tabin, Andy MacMahon, and Phil Ingham
A group of researchers who independently became interested in the genetic body plans of flies, then collaborated to find the hedgehog gene that directs the front-to-back axis in flies.
An Australian mining geologist who found Precambrian fossils of strange impressions of disk, ribbons, and fronds. These “Sprigg’s creatures” were later discovered to be the earliest creatures with bodies on Earth.
An Austrian who lived in Australia in the mid-1960s and identified odd fossils found in Namibia, Africa, and Australia (“Sprigg’s creatures”) as fossils of the oldest creatures with bodies from the Precambrian era.
A researcher at the University of California at Berkeley who studied the DNA of choanoflagellates, single-celled organisms, to find the most basic versions of the genes of an animal that builds a body out of multiple cells.
Linda Buck and Richard Axel
Scientists who in 1991 found the genes that control the human sense of smell, comprising 3% of the entire human genome. They won the Nobel Prize in 2004.
A scientist who studied the eyes of worms in 2001 and found a species of worm that has both normal invertebrate type eyes and a primitive version of vertebrate type eyes.
The discoverer of the “eyeless” gene in fruit flies.
The leader of a team that investigated the “eyeless” gene in flies and was able to manipulate the DNA sequence of flies to grow eyes all over the flies’ bodies.
A scientist in 1837 who studied the embryos of mammals and reptiles to find that the jaw bones of reptiles correspond to the ear bones of mammals.
A German anatomist who used Reichert’s research to argue that the mammalian ear evolved from the reptilian jaw.
Neil Shubin’s son, who was 8 at the time this book was written.