Prof. Neil Shubin honored for research on limbs, organ evolution

Neil Shubin, the Robert Bensley Distinguished Service Professor in Organismal Biology and Anatomy, has been selected to receive the Addison Emery Verrill Medal from the Yale Peabody Museum at a Nov. 4 ceremony.

The Verrill Medal, created in 1959 to honor “signal practitioners in the arts of natural history and natural sciences,” is named for the late Addison Emery Verrill, Yale’s first professor of zoology and one of the Peabody Museum’s first curators. He described more than 1,000 species across virtually every major taxonomic group.

Shubin was selected for his research on the evolution of new organs, especially limbs. He has discovered some of the earliest mammals, crocodiles, dinosaurs, frogs and salamanders in the fossil record. He uses their anatomy to explore hypotheses about the genetic and developmental processes that led to anatomical transformations. One of his most significant discoveries, the 375-million-year-old Tiktaalik roseae fossil, is an important transitional form between fish and land animals.

Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2011, Shubin has written two popular science books: the best-selling Your Inner Fish (2008), named best book of the year by the National Academy of Sciences and made into a celebrated PBS series, and The Universe Within: The Deep History of the Human Body (2013). He has conducted fieldwork in much of North America, including Greenland, as well as China and Africa, and is preparing to hunt fossils in Antarctica this December.

Also receiving Verrill Medals will be May Berenbaum from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Naomi Pierce of Harvard University and Geerat Vermeij from the University of California at Davis. Since the award’s inception, there have been 18 recipients.