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Fin To Limb : Fossil research yields key clues to ocean-to-land evolution

Friday, January 17, 2014

By Peter Reuell, Harvard Staff Writer

Scientists may be close to unraveling one of the longest-standing questions in evolutionary biology — whether limbs, particularly hind limbs, evolved before or after early vertebrates left the oceans for life on land.Following an examination of pelves and a partial pelvic fin of Tiktaalik roseae, a 375-million-year-old transitional species between fish and the first legged vertebrates, a team of researchers found evidence that early hind legs began as enhanced hind fins, suggesting that their evolution began in the oceans, earlier than scientists initially believed.

The late Farish Jenkins, who was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and longtime curator of vertebrate paleontology at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, was part of the team. The study is described in a Jan. 13 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more...

 

 

File photo by Justin Ide/Harvard Staff Photographer

The late Farish Jenkins (pictured), who was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and longtime curator of vertebrate paleontology at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, was part of the team that has found evidence that the evolution of hind limbs in tetrapods began in the oceans, earlier than scientists initially believed.