'Your Inner Fish': Neil Shubin gleefully explains our fishy DNA

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If people seem fishy, just know that they can't help it -- it's in our DNA.

A quirky PBS series launches Wednesday, April 9 (check local listings), with "Your Inner Fish," in which the host, scientist Neil Shubin, explains how we evolved from fish.

The three-week series explores how humans came about using graphics, showing fossils and interviewing people in far-flung corners of the globe. Shubin gleefully explains what people have in common with fish.

A paleobiologist, Shubin tells Zap2it, "As a scientist I look at human bodies different from other people."

This is proven in the slightly weird but compelling opening, as Shubin rides a bus and imagines people with tails and reptilian skin. Now as zoolike as mass transit can be, this seems unusual, but he uses these graphics to further his point that we all have the same origins.

"Around 400 million years ago, you will find fish swimming in oceans and streams," he says.

Then, some 40 million years ago, amphibians arrived, followed by mammals and much later, our branch of the evolutionary tree, primates.

"Every reptile, bird and mammal alive today is descended from ancient fish," he says. "So how does this legacy play out in our anatomy?"

Like others who have found their true calling, Shubin is enthusiastic, no more so than when he cradles fossils that are millions of years old.

One segment that perfectly illustrates his point is showing a human embryo and a fish embryo side by side. They look almost identical, with large heads, apostrophe-shaped bodies, tails and the swellings that become gills in fish and the lower jaw, middle ear and voice box in people.

The documentary could be tighter, particularly when Shubin interacts with people who have abnormalities, such as the boy with six fingers and a woman whose upper ear bears the imprint of the evolutionary gill. But overall it works and lays the groundwork for the ensuing episodes, "Your Inner Reptile" and "Your Inner Monkey."
Photo/Video credit: PBS