The limbs of the animals that populate the earth show astonishing anatomical and functional diversity. Naturalists, embryologists, developmental biologists and evolutionary biologists noted this. The situation became further intriguing and challenging when molecular biologists and geneticists discovered that essentially the same menu of genes are expressed during the development of all animal limbs. But no one would mistake an insect wing for a fish fin, or for a primate forelimb. The discipline of Evolutionary Developmental Biology has made great progress in elucidating the developmental and genetic mechanisms that control unique cellular gene expression, migration, proliferation and death that result in the wondrous anatomy and function of animal limbs. Our speakers are among the leaders in the field:
- Clifford Tabin - Dr. Clifford Tabin received his A.B. in Physics from the University of Chicago in 1976. He obtained his Ph.D. in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984, where he made one of the first retroviral vectors and also first identified the activating mutation in the ras oncogene, in the laboratory of Robert Weinberg. Dr. Tabin began his work in developmental biology during a brief postdoc in the laboratory of Doug Melton at Harvard University, before leaving a year later for a position as an independent Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. There he began studying limb regeneration and development in an effort to bring modern molecular tools to classical embryological systems, work he continued when he joined the faculty of the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School in 1989. His lab is responsible for the first use of retroviral vectors for gene transfer into developing chick embryos, opening that system for genetic manipulations. Focusing on the genetic basis of pattern formation and morphogenesis, his lab has worked on a range of developmental problems, including contributions to our understanding of limb development, the isolation of Sonic hedgehog as a key developmental morphogen, and the discovery of the first genes involved in regulating left-right asymmetry in the embryo. He has also examined the way developmental pathways are modulated through evolution to produce different morphologies such as in the generation of distinct beaks in different species of Darwin’s Finches and in the evolution of cave fish. In addition to his research program, Dr. Tabin heads an international effort to establish a medical school in Kathmandu geared towards training physicians to serve the needs of the rural poor of Nepal. Dr. Tabin is the Chairman of the Department of Genetics at Harvard.
- Neil Shubin - professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, is widely celebrated for discovering the fossil fish Tiktaalik roseae, dubbed the “missing link” between fish and land animals. His research focuses on the evolution of limbs, and he uses his diverse fossil findings to determine how anatomical transformations have occurred throughout the ages. His book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey Through the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, was published in January 2008 and is now available in paperback. His research on anatomical features of animals has taken him all over the world—he has conducted fieldwork in Greenland, China, Canada, much of North America and Africa. Demand from audiences clamoring to hear the story behind his discovery has led him to speak at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Indiana University South Bend, and the University of Tulsa among others. In addition to his speaking, he has published multiple articles in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleobiology, Science and Nature. A John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow, Shubin earned a Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University in 1987 and joined the University faculty as Chairman of Organismal Biology & Anatomy in 2001.
- Nipam Patel - My research program centers on the study of the evolution of development mechanisms with a focus on the genes that regulate segmentation and regionalization of the body plan. We are particularly interested in understanding how certain steps in patterns formation that require protein diffusion in Drosophila are accomplished in those insects and crustaceans in which cellularization of the growing embryos would seem to preclude formation of gradients by diffusion. We have also begun to investigate the role of homeotic genes in generating body plan diversification in crustaceans. Another major area of research in the lab centers on investigating the function of the Drosophila segmentation genes during neuronal development and understanding how these genes may have contributed to the evolution of neural complexity.