Researchers have put together the first ever digital tree of life, and the project already connects 2.3 million species of plants, animals, microbes, and fungi.
Eleven (11) separate organizations worked together to combine tens of thousands of smaller trees of life into one large, comprehensive map that aims to include all the different life forms known to mankind. The digital tree of life can be found online at opentreeoflife.org
It’s an impressive achievement as its goal is to confirm the widely held belief that all life forms on planet Earth share the same common ancestor. The researchers behind the project hope that the digital tree of life will make life easier for all scientists by giving them a sense of how each and every species is related to all of the others.
This kind of knowledge could then be used to improve agricultural methods and to better understand the behavior of viruses.
But even though it already ties together numerous species, the digital tree of life is far from finished. Dr. Karen Cranston, computational phylogeneticist with Duke University and lead scientist, offered a statement informing that “There’s a pretty big gap between the sum of what scientists know about how living things are related, and what’s actually available digitally”.
She and her colleagues explained that only one (1) in six (6) studies published throughout the 10 years proceeding 2012 are available in the form of digital data that can be downloaded and mixed with information from other projects. The majority of evolutionary trees that researchers use are found in either image format or PDF format.
Out of the 7.500 phylogenetic trees, the digital tree of life only incorporates 484 so far. However their number is expected to grow as Dr. Cranston mentioned that the current state of the tree is just “the first real attempt to connect the dots and put it all together. Think of it as version 1.0”.
The second faze of the project will ask biologists from around the world to make more phylogenetic trees available for downloading and mixing with data from other trees.
The paper detailing the project was published a few days ago, on September 18, 2015, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Image Source: pixabay.com