Friday, November 6, 2015

“Tree of Life” associations

The term Tree of Life is associated with words such as biodiversity, phylogeny and taxonomy. In the 1970s, Carl Woese and his coworkers began with studies that lead to the reorganization of whatever lives under the biologically grouped kingdoms [1]. Instead of using classifiers based on morphological and physiological data, they employed genetic data to establish relationships between different organisms. In 1977, Woese and Fox proposed eubacteria, archaebacteria and urkaryotes (now bacteria, archaea and eukarya) as the main branches of the tree; defining a three-domain system with various subdomains.

The Tree of Life continues to be rewritten—and refined. There are web sites dedicated to track and incorporate published (sub)trees and to provide information for their twigs and leaves [2,3]. A recent study initiated the automatic assembly and digitalization of published trees into a “complete” Tree of Life [2,4]. This Open Tree of Life can be updated via uploading. The underlying data can be downloaded for homework, analysis and phylogenetic research. The authors of the evolutionary tree study express the following hope [4]:  

This comprehensive tree will fuel fundamental research on the nature of biological diversity, ultimately providing up-to-date phylogenies for downstream applications in comparative biology, ecology, conservation biology, climate, change, agriculture, and genomics.

A supertree to save the world!

References and more to explore
[1] NovaNext: The Man Who Rewrote the Tree of Life [].
[2] Open Tree of Life:
[3] TOLWeb: Tree of Life web project [].
[4] Hincliff, C. E. et al.: Synthesis of phylogeny and taxonomy into a comprehensive tree of life. PNAS 2015, 112 (41), DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1423041112.