Archive for June, 2012

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NSF’s press release on the Open Tree of Life

Press Release 12-106 (original article)
Assembling, Visualizing and Analyzing a Tree of All Life

National Science Foundation grants will bring together what’s known about how species are related

The “Open Tree of Life” is one of three major new scientific projects funded by the NSF.

June 4, 2012

A new initiative aims to build a comprehensive tree of life that brings together everything scientists know about how all species are related, from the tiniest bacteria to the tallest tree.

Researchers are working to provide the infrastructure and computational tools to enable automatic updating of the tree of life, as well as develop the analytical and visualization tools to study it.

Scientists have been building evolutionary trees for more than 150 years, since Charles Darwin drew the first sketches in his notebook.

Darwin’s theory of evolution explained that millions of species are related and gave biologists and paleontologists the enormous challenge of discovering the branching pattern of the tree of life.

But despite significant progress in fleshing out the major branches of the tree of life, today there is still no central place where researchers can go to visualize and analyze the entire tree.

Now, thanks to grants totaling $13 million from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Assembling, Visualizing, and Analyzing the Tree of Life (AVAToL) program, three teams of scientists plan to make that a reality.

(more…)


What the New York Times Has To Say About Our OpenTree Project

Tree of Life Project Aims for Every Twig and Leaf

By CARL ZIMMER
Published: June 4, 2012

(link to original article)

ROOTS A simplified diagram of the tree
of life, representing about 10 percent of known species. The Open Tree of Life project will combine thousands of such trees. (iPlant collaborative)

In 1837, Charles Darwin opened a notebook and drew a simple tree with a few branches. Each branch, which he labeled with a letter, represented a species. In that doodle, he captured his newfound realization that species were related, having evolved from a common ancestor. Across the top of the page he wrote, “I think.”

Two decades later Darwin presented a detailed account of the tree of life in “On the Origin of Species.” And much of evolutionary biology since then has been dedicated to illuminating parts of the tree. Using DNA, fossils and other clues, scientists have been able to work out the relationships of many groups of organisms, making rough sketches of the entire tree of life. “Animals and fungi are in one part of the tree, and plants are far away in another part,” said Laura A. Katz, an evolutionary biologist at Smith College.

Now Dr. Katz and a number of other colleagues are doing something new. They are drawing a tree of life that includes every known species. A tree, in other words, with about two million branches.

(more…)