U.S – A recent collaborative project gathered 2.3 million species in order to achieve a dynamic and digitally-available ‘Tree of Life’.Several scientists from different institutions have created the first complete draft of the tree of life. The design contains all cellular organism that have existed on Earth since 4 billion years ago, like animals, plants, fungi and microbes.

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

Image credit: Duke University

This project was published in the Journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A (PNAS) and it aims to construct a comprehensive, dynamic and digitally available tree of life by synthesizing published phylogenetic trees along with taxonomic data, as they explained in their official website.

A Big Giant Tree

Although, an important quantity of trees have been released through time, none of them gathered more than 100,000 species as this project did and only a few portion are digitally available. According to the researchers, this is the first time that all available information have been combined into a single tree that incorporates all living species of life, and is based on approximately 500 reduced trees from previous studies. The Duke University called it a “Wikipedia for evolutionary trees.”

According to a poll of almost eight thousand phylogenetic studies published between 2002 and 2012 in more than 100 journals, discovered that only one out of six studies had deposited their data in a digital, downloadable format that the researchers could use.

The importance digital availability

Furthermore, linking all the millions of species into each other will help scientists to have a more solid and organized vision of how the universe works and to discover new drugs, increase crop and livestock yields, and also to pursue the origins and spread of infectious diseases like HIV, Ebola and influenza. “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,” said Cranston

Hard to reach

Some part of the trees remain elusive due to the fact that the digital available information 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 UF, referring to insects and microbes which are not explicitly explained.

However, the scientists team is currently building a software that will let researchers log on and update and revise the tree as new data come in for the millions of species still being named or discovered. Cranstons assure that the tree in its current form it is not finished “It’s critically important to share data for already-published and newly-published work if we want to improve the tree.” she concluded.

Biggest challenge

Moreover, the researches claimed that one of the biggest challenges was to simply accounting for the name changes, alternate names, common misspellings and abbreviations for every specie included in the tree. “Although a massive undertaking in its own right, this draft tree of life represent only a first step.” The researchers wrote, Duke University reported.

You can visit the digital available version of the tree by clicking in here

Source: Duke Today