On a calm January day

A portion of U.C. Berkeley's vertebrate collection.

On a calm January day the rain subsided and the clouds allowed the blue sky to peak through. This was the day we ventured to the Berkeley Paleontology Museum to meet Alan Shabel. Through Shabel our class was granted a peak into the world of the world of the highly specialized researcher.

Alan Shabel, our tour guide and teacher

Upon entering the facility we were confronted with cabinets upon cabinets of specimens. The skeletal remains of a bird sat on the table in front of me, wired back into the form it had taken while alive. A preserved rodent stood poised on the desk. The amount of space taken up by each species was based on the amount of bio diversity within that species, the most bio diverse of species being the rats and bats. Everything was carefully preserved and labeled accordingly.

Cabinet of Specimens

I found myself enthralled with the processes of preservation, even with the care taken on the many hand written labels. I saw an immaculately preserved penguin specimen specially treated to retain it’s soft tissue. A portion of every type of tissue on this animal was preserved. I wondered about the person who had taken so much time and care to preserve this creature. Had this person considered his/her work art? I imagine that this person dedicating their life to this work, devoting their precious time to preserve specimens for future researchers.

The Berkeley Paleontology Museum is a treasure trove of specimens representing an enormous amount of bio-diversity. We spent our time in the Vertebrate collection; this collection ranges from the Devonian, 417 – 354 million years ago, to the present day.

The idea Alan brought to my attention that particularly captivated with me was that of homologous bones.

Although these vertabrates evolved in different directions, with changes in size, shape and function, they all use common bone elements as well as homologous nerve systems, blood circulatory systems and other organ systems.

Homologous bones are the bones that are the same for all vertebrates. All vertebrate’s skeletons are built with the same basic structure, the same number of bones in the same relative locations. This basic skeletal structure does not vary much from species to species. Each species endowed with the bones capable of carrying out the functions that specific vertebrate has become adapted to. One example of homologous bones can be seen in us, humans, and giraffes. Both have seven vertebrae their necks, the same number in the same position. The Giraffes vertebrae are hyperxtended versions of our own. I felt a similar sense of fascination and interconnection when I was told that the structure of Heme is the nearly the same as chlorophyll. Heme and chlorophyll both circulate the essentials to all parts of the organism.

Notice the structural similarity between heme, the part of hemoglobin from human blood that transports oxygen, and chlorophyll which has the unique capacity for creating energy from the sun through photosynthesis.

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