International collaboration of researchers releases "tree of life" for 2.3 million species
The largest "tree of life" ever created has been released, spanning 3.5 billion years and 2.3 million species. The work was not carried out from scratch, as such an effort would consume a vast amount of man-hours. Instead the researchers compiled data from almost 500 existing smaller trees displaying the divergence and evolution of life as we understand it.
Duke University, one of the US institutions involved in the project, describes the tree as a "Wikipedia" for such evolutionarymaps. Though researchers involved inthe project are keen to underline that the work is far from finished owing to the fragmented nature of the data that the researchers were laboring to compile. A study of research pertainingto life trees carried out 2000 – 2012 revealed that only one in sixinstances of the work are deposited in an easy to access digitalformat.
This leaves significantgaps in the work, and in some places the shortcomings have resulted indata that either doesn't gel with expert opinion, as is the casewith sunflower families, or, as with microbes, is missingaltogether. The researchers hope that future iterations of the treewill feature fewer blind spots thanks to software which is currentlyunder development that will allow future researchers to log in to thetree and update it with their study.
Beyond being anincredible representation of our planet's complex and beautiful ecosystem, having so unified a tree could have significant and far reaching practical applications. For example tracing the inter-species spread of infectious diseases and increasing crop yields.
The resource is available free online on the Open Tree of Life website.
Source: Duke University