The synthesis of all known species into one tree of life has been avoided by the scientific community—until now. In an effort spanning three years, researchers from thirteen institutions collaborated to complete the first draft of a comprehensive new tree of life that depicts the evolutionary sequence of 2.3 million species as they emerged from one another over time.
Understanding these relationships allows us to think about how the evolutionary process may have occurred, and we can combine this understanding with other information (such as the environmental conditions we think were happening at the time) to start making educated guesses about why evolution may have worked in certain ways. This in turn allows us to start making predictions about how evolution may work in general. In specific cases such as viral evolution, we may even be able to think about how to take advantage of our knowledge in order to design more effective treatments. In the case of higher taxa, understanding the evolutionary process helps us think more clearly about the way Earth’s biodiversity has accumulated, which is important for conservation.The rate at which species go extinct has increased 1,000 times since humans came into the picture, with future extinction rates projected to reach 10,000 times greater. With this in mind, it is important to be reminded of our shared evolutionary history and our not-so-distant relationship with other forms of life. The Open Tree of Life provides a stunning resource that allows us to communicate with the history of biodiversity and serves as a reminder that we are not the center (in fact, there is no circle) of life.Tags: evolution