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AToL

Outreach

Tree of Life Resources for Educators

Background

The broad-scale history of descent during organismal evolution takes the form of a single, enormous "Tree of Life." This phylogeny stands as one of science's great discoveries. Its implication -- that all living things on Earth today (from bacteria, to mushrooms, to humans) are related -- has forever changed our perception of the world around us. Over the last 30 years biologists have come to embrace reconstruction of this phylogeny as a major research goal. The use of phylogenetic principles is almost as ubiquitous today as the idea of Darwinian evolution.Phylogeny, because it reflects the history of transmission of life's information, has unique power to organize our knowledge of diverse organisms, genomes, and molecules.

Yet our knowledge of biological diversity resembles a 16th century map of the world: some portions are blank (species yet to be discovered), while known portions can be distorted (phylogenetic relationships unresolved or incorrect). Just as then, a good map would significantly enhance our ability to understand and exploit the riches of our world. The inference of that good map -- the "Tree of Life" -- has so far depended on the efforts of systematists relying on inadequate computational facilities, software, and data. The Assembling the Tree of Life Program at NSF and various genome projects are helping to address the data problem; CIPRES will address the other two problems and thereby profoundly alter the way in which analyses are conducted. Indeed, our understanding of the mechanisms of evolution, especially at the genomic level, will reach an entirely new level thanks to the methodological innovations introduced by this project. 

Selected links to more on phylogenetics:

 

AMNH image
American Museum of
Natural History

Jepson Herbarium
Jepson Herbarium

Peabody Museum
Peabody Museum