Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Your inner fish

I just finished reading Neil Shubin's book 'Your Inner Fish.' It is a very easy and highly recommended read. We tend to focus on those areas where we have 'improved' on our fish-like ancestors (walking upright, doing pushups, inventing calculus etc) but what I found fascinating, and relevant to class today, was a discussion of olfaction (smelling) and how it's all been downhill since our aquatic past.

The human genome only contains about 23,000 protein-coding genes - which itself is an amazing fact. The other 98.5% of our genome consists of non-coding genes, regulatory sequences, introns and endogenous retrovirus sequences.

About 1,000 of those 23,000 protein-coding genes code for different odor receptors but less than half of them are functional in modern humans. Which says a lot about the importance of different senses in the evolution of humans from an aquatic ancestor (smell) to a terrestrial life (vision). Our evolutionary history is revealed in our genes.

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