For the first time, scientists have created the first draft of a digital “tree of life.” This tree is a genetic map of 2.3 million named species of animals, plants, fungi, microbes on the planet that can be traced back to a common ancestor. The project was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the University of Michigan.
It is free to use
The new digitized ‘tree of life’ has for the first time aggregated thousands of already published smaller trees into the most comprehensive map of all life forms. Anyone can use the ‘tree of life’ on opentreeoflife.org. It depicts the evolution of living organisms since life began on Earth about 3.5 billion years ago. Findings of the study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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Duke University computational phylogenetist Karen Cranston said in a statement that only one out of six studies published in 100 scientific journals over the past decade have digital data that others can use. Most of the 7,500 phylogenetic trees are in image or PDF formats that cannot be downloaded and merged with other data. Another challenge was to take into account abbreviations, name changes, and alternate names of different species. So, the first version of the ‘tree of life’ is based on only 484 phylogenetic trees.
This ‘tree of life’ would work like Wikipedia
Douglas Soltis of the University of Florida said people thought 25 years ago that creating such a huge and complex tree of life was impossible. The first version is a crucial starting point that others can refine and improve over the next several decades. Soltis said the next step was to revise existing information and contribute more trees.
It is pretty much like Wikipedia. Researchers are also creating a software that will enable the scientific community to log on and modify the tree as new data is added. Knowing how various species are related to each other could help researchers increase crop yields, livestock, trace the origin of infectious diseases, and discover new drugs.