Tree of Life: One Chart Shows How Every Known Species Ever Is Related

Tree of Life: One Chart Shows How Every Known Species Ever Is Related
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Thanks to a team of scientists, there's a new "tree of life" showing the ancestry of millions of different species dating back to the beginning of the planet.

The team, led by Karen Cranston of Duke University, published a paper called "Synthesis of phylogeny and taxonomy into a comprehensive tree of life" in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. In the paper, researchers map the last 3.5 billion years of life on Earth, adding up roughly 2.3 million named species from 500 previously published life trees.

The project, which Cranston says is just "Version 1.0," is called the Open Tree of Life, since it welcomes contributions and comments from anyone in the science community who might have input, and is available for free to browse or download on its website.

Here's the fun part, what 3.5 billion years of life looks like so far:

The process involved combining already published phylogenies, or trees of life, with information they had that wasn't included in trees previously. The team that compiled everything includes 22 scientists.

"This comprehensive tree will fuel fundamental research on the nature of biological diversity, ultimately providing up-to-date phylogenies for downstream applications in comparative biology, ecology, conservation biology, climate change, agriculture and genomics," the team writes in the tree paper's abstract.

As Cranston's team continues to research and integrate smaller existing life trees, contributions from scientists all over the world will inevitably flow in. Considering how quickly it took off in the Reddit community, it shouldn't be long before those 500 documented trees become 1,000, turning the Open Tree of Life into a constantly updating encyclopedia of everything that has ever lived on our planet — and how closely it's all related.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Max Plenke

Max Plenke is a staff writer at Mic, where he covers breaking news, climate science, health and the future. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ and Wallpaper. Send story tips to max@mic.com.

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