Scientists have released the first draft of a tree of life for all 2.3 million named species of animals, plants, fungi and microbes.
The tree, which is a collaborative effort between eleven institutions, depicts the relationships among living things as they diverged from one another over time, tracing back to the beginning of life on Earth more than 3.5 billion years ago.
“This is the first real attempt to connect the dots and put it all together,” said principal investigator Karen Cranston of Duke University. “Think of it as Version 1.0.”
The current version of the tree can be viewed here.
The official scientific journal of the National Academy of Sciences notes that “Evolutionary trees, branching diagrams that often look like a cross between a candelabra and a subway map, aren’t just for figuring out whether aardvarks are more closely related to moles or manatees, or pinpointing a slime mould’s closest cousins."
“Understanding how the millions of species on Earth are related to one another helps scientists discover new drugs, increase crop and livestock yields, and trace the origins and spread of infectious diseases such as HIV, Ebola and influenza.”