Google Earth for The Tree of Life

By Carl Zimmer | February 9, 2009 10:47 pm

tree2.jpgThere are perhaps ten million species on Earth, joined together by common ancestry. But even 3000 species are practically impossible to represent on a single evolutionary tree. So how shall we ever see the tree of life (especially if it’s also a web in parts)? That’s the subject of my latest article in tomorrow’s New York Times, “Crunching Data for the Tree of Life.” It’s one of a set of stories the Times is publishing in observation of Darwin’s birthday. Check them all out.

(Image: Hillis lab)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Writing Elsewhere

Comments (7)

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  1. Richard

    That is one of the most stunning charts of the ‘Tree of Life’ that I’ve ever seen. I don’t know the details of every single branch, but it seems to be democratic, in that everyone is treated equally.

    My little tiny human, ‘Masters of the Universe’ branch hardly shows at all.

  2. Duggie

    I never realised that bacteria were so unimportant, thanks for clearing that up google.

  3. Keith Clarke

    That’s a nice tree. I also really like the hyperbolic trees as used at the Jepson Herbarium.

  4. Anurag Sethi

    @Duggie: Actually, I believe that the most diversity occurs in the bacterial and archaeal branches of life. The Hillis lab has just shown the tree of life with very few bacterial/archaeal species. It is because of our eukaryotic centric view of life – diversity one recognizes is that which can be seen on a day to day life and also because we human beings are eukaryotic.

  5. Mel

    There is the further complication that the definition of a species in the prokaryotic world is even more contentious than it is for the eukaryotic world, plus the fact that there has really been so little exploration of the extent of the diversity in the prokaryotic world. We have been very limited due to technology and technique in the past, and have only recently begun to realize just how much diversity there is in those two other domains. As a consequence, just how much we can tree out with confidence is much more limited than it is in the Eukaryotic domain.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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