Neil Shubin: The Universe Within

Neil Shubin is a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, and is currently a professor at the University of Chicago. During his presentation, he discussed our ties to the Big Bang, which are evident in the atoms that make up tetrapods, fish, and rocks. There are trace elements of the event that started the universe within each of our cells, hence his books tittle, The Universe Within.

After studying evolutionary biology in class, some of the concepts Shubin discussed and stories he shared were easier to understand and connect. He explained that after seeing a single powerpoint slide in college, he set out on an expedition to find the missing-link between fish and tetrapods, a flathead fish. He found it by searching for rocks from specific geological periods that would yield the fossil he was looking for. Shubin utilized comparative anatomy to highlight homologous structures (fins vs. forearms) found in the fossil record, evident of the evolution of fish to tetrapods.

Also along the lines of evolution, Shubin discussed the work of Seymour Benzer, a geneticists who loved working with fruit flies. As Shubin explained, fruit flies are important to genetic research because of their fast generation times and high mutation rate. As we learned in class, natural selection in action apparent in insects and bacteria allows us to see how the environment selects for traits that are most advantageous for survival and reproduction. Benzer was able to alter the genetic clock of a species of flies by isolating certain flies and breeding them true (artificial selection). His work allowed for greater understanding of advanced sleep phase syndrome.

I believe Neil Shubin’s presentation effectively demonstrated how deep the connections between life found on Earth are, through his knowledge of science history and personal anecdotes. Learning about our (humans) position in the grand scheme of the universe was humbling, and the knowledge he shared makes me think how great the potential in scientific study really is.


About Salvador Herrera

Reader. Writer. Scholar in training. B.A. in English from Cornell University '18. English Ph.D. candidate at UCLA.
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