Drawing two million branches: My story in tomorrow's NYTimes on building the full tree of life

By Carl Zimmer | June 4, 2012 6:40 pm

Even the most elaborate pictures of the tree of life you can find online are gaunt shadows of life’s full diversity. In tomorrow’s New York Times, I write about a team of scientists who are setting out to build a tree with every described species on Earth–and program it so that the entire scientific community can help tease out its branches and add more branches as they discover the six, sixty, or six hundred million more unnamed species on Earth. Check it out.


Comments (4)

  1. My first tatto will be this tree of life !

  2. tall blue ape

    Only way to properly visualize the tree is as a 3-dimensional graph, with LUCA at 0-0-0, it’s descendants branching outward from the center, and the present is represented as a sphere on which the branch tips show extant species. Effective population size should be shown by branch diameter.

  3. W.Benson

    All of Darwin’s trees were abstract. It was Ernst Haeckel who first dared to picture concrete phylogenetic relationships using the tree metaphore. However, Haeckel is on biology’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum and cannot be mentioned in a favorable light.

    [CZ: All of Darwin’s trees? Not true. Here, for example, is a tree he sketched of primate phylogeny in 1868.]

  4. W. Benson

    Darwin never published the tree, and it was drawn 2 years after Haeckel published a hypothetical (aren´t they all) monophyletic tree for “all of life.” But, indeed, I erred. I should have said “All of Darwin’s published trees were abstract.” Darwin’s tree in the Origin seems to have been mainly to illustrate his Principle of Divergence and not speciation in itself. But your remarks tend to support my charge that Haeckel is on Biology’s Index of Banned Authors. The Nazi’s also had him on a list, as did Theodore Roosevelt, the Jesuits, Stephen Jay Gould, George Bernard Shaw (It seems) and the Discovery Institute. Interesting.
    P.S. Will be buying your new textbook with Douglas Emlen. I see the release date has been moved up the the beginning of July!!

    [CZ: Haeckel’s legacy in the history of biology is a complicated one. But I don’t have him on any index of banned authors. There just isn’t room in a newspaper article to get very detailed about the history of phylogenetics. Hope you like the book–it’s going to be out in August, not July.]

    WB: Amazon-com says –
    Hardcover: 578 pages
    Publisher: Roberts and Company Publishers; First Edition, 1st Edition edition (July 2, 2012)
    Language: English


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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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