Recently the world has witnessed the release of the very first draft of the ‘tree of life’ for nearly 2.3 million species of plants, animals, microbes and fungi; the species in the said list include all types of creatures from puffballs to platypuses.
This recently released tree is a collaborative effort of eleven institutions and depicts relationships between living beings as they got separated from one another with time. The draft provides information from the time when life began on the surface of our planet, which is more than 3.5 billion years back.
The past decades have seen several smaller trees getting published for specific branches of the tree of life. Some of those trees contained more than 100,000 species. However, the new tree of life is the first to present a combination of all those results; it has been developed based on 500 smaller trees. In other words, this tree successfully covers all of life. The end-results can be viewed online absolutely free of cost, and can be used and edited in the same manner as “Wikipedia”.
If you want to download or just browse the current version of the tree of life along with source code and underlying data, you will have to visit https://tree.opentreeoﬂife.org. You can also check a related article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on September 18.
Duke University’s Karen Cranston, the principal investigator of the project, said that this is the first time anyone or a team has tried to connect all dots and join them all together. He has described this recently released draft as the Version 1.0.
Evolutionary trees containing branching diagrams resembling a cross between a subway map and candelabra are not always meant for determining whether the aardvarks are closer to the manatees or the moles. Those trees are also not meant for just pinpointing the closest cousins of a slime mold.
So, what else they do? Finding out how the hundreds of thousands of species living on our planet are related to each other allows scientists to increase livestock yields and production of crops, discover new drugs, and trace spread and origins of different infectious diseases like influenza, HIV, and Ebola.