Tiktaalik discovery among National Geographic's top grants

Society's celebration of 10,000th grant includes UChicago's Neil Shubin

December 8, 2011

Neil Shubin, PhD Neil Shubin, PhD

Neil Shubin's 2004 discovery of the pivotal fossil Tiktaalik roseae, a transitional species between ancient fish and the first limbed animals, is among 10 projects selected for their historical significance as part of the National Geographic celebration of the magazine's first 10,000 grants.

Since 1890, the National Geographic Society has funded grants to every corner of the planet --unlocking many of its secrets, sometimes in spectacular ways. The total number of National Geographic grants reached 10,000 in late 2011, representing a combined value of $153 million.

To celebrate the landmark, National Geographic chose 10 grants that "have made the greatest difference in understanding the Earth." The most recent grant on the list is the 2004 expedition to the Canadian Arctic co-led by Shubin, PhD, the Robert R. Bensley Professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, which discovered the first fossils of Tiktaalik on Ellsmere Island.

The species, which mixed fish-like features with shoulder, elbow and wrist-like limb joints, provided the missing evolutionary link between fish and the first animals that walked out of water onto land about 375 million years ago. The discovery inspired Shubin's 2008 book, "Your Inner Fish: A Journey Through the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body," which won science-writing awards from Phi Beta Kappa, the Library Journal and the National Academy of Sciences.

Shubin's work is featured alongside notable research by scientists such as Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Jane Goodall. Paleontologist Paul Sereno, PhD, Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, is also mentioned for "the discovery of new dinosaur species on nearly every continent" as a grantee of National Geographic.

"The impact and results of these 10,000 grants are beyond calculation -- they have filled countless gaps in our knowledge of the Earth and all that lives on it," said John Francis, vice president for research, conservation and exploration at National Geographic. "The urgent need for solutions to the planet’s pressing problems means that the next 10,000 grants will be even more critical."

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