Researchers release first ‘Tree of Life’ for 2.3 million species on Earth

Large, open-access resource of the Tree of Life aims to be “Wikipedia” for evolutionary history, according to Duke Univeristy.

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Image Credit: University of Florida.

Earth's most complete family tree to date, which illustrates the evolutionary relationships between 2.3 million named species of life-forms over the course of roughly 3.5 billion years on the planet, has been published by researchers from 11 institutions.

Duke University stated, "The tree depicts the relationships among living things as they diverged from one another over time", from the very beginning of life one Earth. The single tree diagram, represents every known species of animals, plants, fungi and microbes- from platypuses to puffballs.

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

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. Image Credit: Duke Univeristy

Researchers who collaborated on the project, have published their work online at Open Tree of Life - a digital archive where anyone can access, download, view, edit and update the tree. It is believed there are 8.7 million species currently on the planet and from our planet's past that are yet to be catalogued.  

While it is being called the "first draft", various studies over the years had previously published 500 smaller trees. However, it is the first time that all the information has been combined in one place and made publicly available.

"25 years ago people said this goal of huge trees was impossible," stated Douglas Soltis, a principal investigator on the project from the University of Florida. "The Open Tree of Life is an important starting point that other investigators can now refine and improve for decades to come." 

Duke University revealed the research was supported by a three-year, $5.76 million grant from the US National Science Foundation. Further information about the tree was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Explore species with the Tree of Life wheel here.

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