n-commentEvolutionary Biology

Web-Crawling Up the Tree of Life

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Science  02 Aug 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5275, pp. 568-570
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5275.568


Systematic biologists have planted a tree on the World Wide Web, and it's growing faster and further than Jack's proverbial beanstalk. This prolific plant is nothing less than the Tree of Life, a vast on-line endeavor that will ultimately include the genetic and evolutionary relationships, photographs, and life histories of every type of living organism. With just a few mouse clicks or keystrokes, a mycologist can climb a fungal family tree, read accompanying discussions about the tree's various inhabitants, and shinny back down the trunk to see fungal ancestors. A few more clicks, and the researcher can hook up to TreeBASE, a site that will eventually contain all the morphological and molecular data, including gene sequences, that underlie the phylogenies. Although it's still just a sapling—it's been on-line for a mere 20 months—the tree already has a sizable girth: It currently holds over 1000 pages, with data on organisms in nearly 7500 taxa branching across 10 computers on two continents, and it's drawing raves from other scientists. Computers/Math