If you want to know something about how our ancestors came out of the ocean and onto land, there are just two sorts of fish you should get to know really well. One is the lungfish, our closest aquatic relatives, and the other is the coelacanth, our next-closest. Trout, goldfish, salmon–they are all just distant ray-finned cousins. Lungfish and coelacanths, by contrast, have much in common with us, including a few of the bones that would give rise to our legs and arms. And coelacanths are especially fascinating because until the 1930s, scientists believed that they had gone extinct 65 million years ago. Now they turn out to live off the coasts of both Africa and Indonesia.
Which is why I hope you’ll join me Thursday at 11 am ET to participate in a Google Hangout with a panel of scientists to talk about the latest scientific discoveries about this amazing fish. The occasion is the publication of the coelacanth genome last week.
Now, if you read the Loom with any regularity, you know that the mere publication of a genome is not, in my opinion, automatically news. But the scientists who sequenced the coelacanth genome have analyzed it to explore some very interesting questions, and their work has provided some intriguing clues about the evolution of our limbs and many other aspects of our biology–as well as some puzzling features unique to coelacanths themselves. The genome paper has also inspired some criticism in the blogosphere.
All of which is great fodder for a conversation. The Google Hangout will last about an hour–I’ll kick it off by talking to the scientists about their study, and then we’ll be able to field questions from you–live! I’ve never done a full-blown Google Hangout before, so I’m particularly interested in seeing how this works as a way to talk about science online. I believe I’ll be able to embed it here on Thursday, and it will (I think) be archived on YouTube. Feel free to post any questions about how this will all work in the comments below. I’ll try to answer them (provided I know the answer!).
Finally, here’s a nice diagram created by Raul Domingo a couple years ago for National Geographic. Click to embiggen!