The main project of Your Inner Fish is outlining the similarities among all animals, even those that look entirely different. Shubin focuses on the human body, comparing human anatomy to the anatomy of fish and other animals and arguing for ways that human anatomy may have developed from these other structures through evolution. These shared features may not be immediately noticeable, but can be traced through study of the fossil record and genetic research. In comparing humans and fish, Shubin brings in fossils of intermediate stages between fish and land animals – such as Tiktaalik roseae, a fish with primitive limbs – explaining how the body structures of fish are primitive versions of the body structures of humans that have been modified for life on land. Genetic information also supports the similarities between animals, as in the genes for eyes that are similar across flies, mice, and humans even though each of these animals have eyes that look incredibly different on the outside.
Using comparative anatomy and genetics, scientists have been able to isolate many genetic mutations and study their affects in different animals such as mice or flies. Once a gene is thoroughly understood, scientists can then apply those findings to the human genome, often helping genetic illnesses or predicting genetic defects. While Shubin avoids speculating on a deeper meaning to these connections between all life on Earth, he does point to the ways these similarities can allow for scientific and medical research that improves the quality of human lives.
Similarities Between All Animals ThemeTracker
Similarities Between All Animals Quotes in Your Inner Fish
How can a walk through the zoo help us predict where we should look in the rocks to find important fossils? A zoo offers a great variety of creatures that are all distinct in many ways. But let's not focus on what makes them distinct; to pull off our prediction, we need to focus on what different creatures share. We can then use the features common to all species to identify groups of creatures with similar traits.
I can do a similar analysis for the wrists, ribs, ears, and other parts of our skeleton—all these features can be traced back to a fish like this. This fossil is just as much a part of our history as the African hominids, such as Australopithecus afarensis, the famous "Lucy." Seeing Lucy, we can understand our history as highly advanced primates. Seeing Tiktaalik is seeing our history as fish.
Some fish, then, had structures like those in a limb. Owen's archetype was not a divine and eternal part of all life. It had a history, and that history was to be found in Devonian age rocks…
Do the facts of our ancient history mean that humans are not special or unique among living creatures? Of course not. In fact, knowing something about the deep origins of humanity only adds to the remarkable fact of our existence: all of our extraordinary capabilities arose from basic components that evolved in ancient fish and other creatures. From common parts came a very unique construction. We are not separate from the rest of the living world; we are part of it down to our bones and, as we will see shortly, even our genes.
His experiments may seem to be a bizarre way to spend the better part of a year, let alone for a young scientist to launch a promising scientific career. Why sharks? Why a form of vitamin A?
To make sense of these experiments, we need to step back and look at what we hope they might explain. What we are really getting at in this chapter is the recipe, written in our DNA, that builds our bodies from a single egg.
Experiment after experiment on creatures as different as mice, sharks, and flies shows us that the lessons of Sonic hedgehog are very general. All appendages, whether they are fins or limbs, are built by similar kinds of genes. What does this mean for … the transition of fish fins into limbs? It means that this great evolutionary transformation did not involve the origin of new DNA: much of the shift likely involved using ancient genes, such as those involved in shark fin development, in new ways to make limbs with fingers and toes.
The power of those moments was something I'll never forget. Here, cracking rocks in the dirt, I was discovering objects that could change the way people think. That juxtaposition between the most child-like, even humbling, activities and one of the great human intellectual aspirations has never been lost on me.
…in teeth, mammary glands, and feathers, we find a similar theme. The biological processes that make these different organs are versions of the same thing. When you see these deep similarities among different organs and bodies, you begin to recognize that the diverse inhabitants of our world are just variations on a theme.
As they looked at embryos, they found something fundamental: all organs in the chicken can be traced to one of three layers of tissue in the developing embryo. These three layers became known as the germ layers. They achieved almost legendary status, which they retain even to this day.
If you compare the odor genes of a mammal with the handful of odor genes in a jawless fish, the "extra" genes in mammals are all variations on a theme… This means that our large number of odor genes arose by many rounds of duplication of the small number of genes present in primitive species.
Gehring's lab found they could use the mouse gene to trigger the formation of an extra fly eye anywhere: on the back, on a wing, near the mouth. What Gehring had found was a master switch for eye development that was virtually the same in a mouse and a fly. This gene, Pax 6, initiated a complex chain reaction of gene activity that ultimately led to a new fly eye.
As he describes the ear-jaw comparison, his prose departs from the normally staid description of nineteenth-century anatomy to express shock, even wonderment, at this discovery. The conclusion was inescapable: the same gill arch that formed part of the jaw of a reptile formed ear bones in mammals. Reichert proposed a notion that even he could barely believe - that parts of the ears of mammals are the same thing as parts of the jaws of reptiles.
Jellyfish do not have either Pax 6 or Pax 2: they arose before those genes hit the scene. But in the box jellyfish's genes we see something remarkable. The gene that forms the eyes is not Pax 6, as we'd expect, but a sort of mosaic that has the structure of both Pax 6 and Pax 2. In other words, this gene looks like a primitive version of other animals' Pax 6 and Pax 2.
Replace this family circus with real features - genetic mutations and the body changes that they encode - and you have a lineage that can be identified by biological features. If descent with modification works this way, then our family trees have a signature in their basic structure... Obviously, the real world is more complex than our simple hypothetical example. Reconstructing family trees can be difficult if traits arise many different times in a family… or if traits do not have a genetic basis and arise as the result of changes in diet or other environmental conditions.