Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

'Tree of life' for 2.3 million species released

21.09.2015

Large, open-access resource aims to be 'Wikipedia' for evolutionary history

A first draft of the "tree of life" for the roughly 2.3 million named species of animals, plants, fungi and microbes -- from platypuses to puffballs -- has been released.


This circular family tree of Earth's lifeforms is considered a first draft of the 3.5-billion-year history of how life evolved and diverged.

Credit: opentreeoflife.org

A collaborative effort among eleven institutions, the tree depicts the relationships among living things as they diverged from one another over time, tracing back to the beginning of life on Earth more than 3.5 billion years ago.

Tens of thousands of smaller trees have been published over the years for select branches of the tree of life -- some containing upwards of 100,000 species -- but this is the first time those results have been combined into a single tree that encompasses all of life. The end result is a digital resource that available free online for anyone to use or edit, much like a "Wikipedia" for evolutionary trees.

"This is the first real attempt to connect the dots and put it all together," said principal investigator Karen Cranston of Duke University. "Think of it as Version 1.0."

The current version of the tree -- along with the underlying data and source code -- is available to browse and download at https://tree.opentreeoflife.org.

It is also described in an article appearing Sept. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Evolutionary trees, branching diagrams that often look like a cross between a candelabra and a subway map, aren't just for figuring out whether aardvarks are more closely related to moles or manatees, or pinpointing a slime mold's closest cousins. Understanding how the millions of species on Earth are related to one another helps scientists discover new drugs, increase crop and livestock yields, and trace the origins and spread of infectious diseases such as HIV, Ebola and influenza.

Rather than build the tree of life from scratch, the researchers pieced it together by compiling thousands of smaller chunks that had already been published online and merging them together into a gigantic "supertree" that encompasses all named species.

The initial draft is based on nearly 500 smaller trees from previously published studies.

To map trees from different sources to the branches and twigs of a single supertree, one of the biggest challenges was simply accounting for the name changes, alternate names, common misspellings and abbreviations for each species. The eastern red bat, for example, is often listed under two scientific names, Lasiurus borealis and Nycteris borealis. Spiny anteaters once shared their scientific name with a group of moray eels.

"Although a massive undertaking in its own right, this draft tree of life represents only a first step," the researchers wrote.

For one, only a tiny fraction of published trees are digitally available.

A survey of more than 7,500 phylogenetic studies published between 2000 and 2012 in more than 100 journals found that only one out of six studies had deposited their data in a digital, downloadable format that the researchers could use.

The vast majority of evolutionary trees are published as PDFs and other image files that are impossible to enter into a database or merge with other trees.

"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," Cranston said.

As a result, the relationships depicted in some parts of the tree, such as the branches representing the pea and sunflower families, don't always agree with expert opinion.

Other parts of the tree, particularly insects and microbes, remain elusive.

That's because even the most popular online archive of raw genetic sequences -- from which many evolutionary trees are built -- contains DNA data for less than five percent of the tens of millions species estimated to exist on Earth.

"As important as showing what we do know about relationships, this first tree of life is also important in revealing what we don't know," said co-author Douglas Soltis of the University of Florida.

To help fill in the gaps, the team is also developing software that will enable researchers to log on and update and revise the tree as new data come in for the millions of species still being named or discovered.

"It's by no means finished," Cranston said. "It's critically important to share data for already-published and newly-published work if we want to improve the tree."

"Twenty five years ago people said this goal of huge trees was impossible," Soltis said. "The Open Tree of Life is an important starting point that other investigators can now refine and improve for decades to come."

This research was supported by a three-year, $5.76 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (1208809).

###

Other study co-authors include Cody Hinchliff and Stephen Smith of the University of Michigan; James Allman of Interrobang Corporation; Gordon Burleigh, Ruchi Chaudhary and Jiabin Deng of the University of Florida; Lyndon Coghill, Peter Midford and Richard Ree of the Field Museum of Natural History; Keith Crandall and Christopher Owen of George Washington University; Bryan Drew of the University of Nebraska-Kearney; Romina Gazis and David Hibbett of Clark University; Karl Gude of Michigan State University; Laura Katz and H. Dail Laughinghouse IV of Smith College; Emily Jane McTavish of the University of Kansas; Jonathan Rees of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center and Tiffani Williams at Texas A&M University.

CITATION: "Synthesis of Phylogeny and Taxonomy Into a Comprehensive Tree of Life," C. Hinchliff et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS Sept. 18, 2015. DOI: 10. 1073/pnas.1423041112.

Media Contact

Karl Bates
Karl.bates@duke.edu
919-681-8054

 @DukeU

http://www.duke.edu 

Karl Bates | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Evolutionary Tree of Life microbes principal investigator

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Cryo-electron microscopy achieves unprecedented resolution using new computational methods
24.03.2017 | DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

nachricht How cheetahs stay fit and healthy
24.03.2017 | Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>