Evolution: Great Transformations

We have seen previously how Darwin unified all the biological sciences into a small set of naturalistic principles, known as the theory of evolution through natural selection (click here to check out that awesome documentary). In that documentary we saw that the process of evolution is long and very gradual, but there are some developments that stick out because they have given rise to some of the most dramatic transformations we know about today.

Today's fascinating episode deals precisely with the great transformations in evolutionary history: land-dwelling animals evolving into whales and dolphins, fish into four-legged terrestrial creatures (tetrapods), and the Cambrian Explosion.

Many of the body parts of all animals are basically specialized adaptations of the same one basic general structure, and it turns out that they are each governed by a small set of powerful genes, which all modern animals seem to share. This explains, for instance, why there are some weird cases in which animals can grow body parts in the wrong places: legs out of their heads, antennae out of their torsos, extra ribs, etc., and why it is possible to use genes from one type of animal into another.

Among those interviewed are Neil Shubin, who recently published Your Inner Fish; Philip Gingerich, the man who discovered the evolutionary stages of whales; Sean Carroll, and more.



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