Scientists Establish Evolutionary Link Between Human Hands And Fish Fins

Asher Bayot

Scientists from the University of Chicago have finally answered an evolutionary puzzle that has been boggling biologists for years: the connection between human hands and fish fins.

Biologists have long speculated on the evolutionary relationship between the modern human hand and the fins of water-dwelling animals, but most studies in the past have failed to establish a clear link. Fortunately, this month, researchers have finally uncovered the genetic relations between the two physiological structures, and we can now safely conclude that the human hand and the fish fin share a common evolutionary history.

According to Live Science, researchers were able to sequence the genetic make-up of a freshwater fish with that of mice, and discovered that the genes involved with the development of mammal's hands and feet were similar to the genes involved with the development of the fins. The findings suggest that the fins of ancient fish may have been the precursor for modern day mammalian digits.

Neil Shubin, biologist from the University of Chicago, noted that the genetics of the modern human hand reveals clear aquatic origins.

"Fossils show that the wrist and digits clearly have an aquatic origin, but fins and limbs have different purposes. They have evolved in different directions since they diverged."

Shubin is most famous for being the discoverer of the Tiktaalik rosae, an extinct specie of shallow water fish referred to by some biologists as the common ancestor of all land-dwelling animals. Scientists have long been curious about the Tiktaalik's physiology, and how it managed to evolve sturdier limbs that can withstand harsher movement in the open land.

Despite actual fossil evidence, it is only recently that scientists are completely unveiling the true evolutionary history of human hands and fish fins.

2014 has been a great year for evolutionary research. A month ago, the Inquisitr also reported on a breakthrough biology finding involving the evolutionary link between birds and turtles. Brian Simison, director of the Academy's Center for Comparative Genetics, praised the newly found development in evolution studies, adding that "calling [the discover] is an exciting new era of sequencing technology is an understatement."

"In the space of just five years, reasonably affordable studies using DNA sequencing have advanced from using only a handful of genetic markers to more than 2,000 — an unbelievable amount of DNA. New techniques like UCE dramatically improve our ability to help resolve decades-long evolutionary mysteries, giving us a clear picture of how animals like turtles evolved on our constantly-changing planet."

The hands-fins evolutionary link study was published this week in the science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[Image from Project Healing Water Fly Fishing/Flickr]