Skip to comments.Discovering the Tree of Life
Posted on 11/22/2002 9:09:10 PM PST by forsnax5
NSF awards grants to discover the relationships of 1.75 million species
One of the most profound ideas to emerge in modern science is Charles Darwin's concept that all of life, from the smallest microorganism to the largest vertebrate, is connected through genetic relatedness in a vast genealogy. This "Tree of Life" summarizes all we know about biological diversity and underpins much of modern biology, yet many of its branches remain poorly known and unresolved.
To help scientists discover what Darwin described as the tree's "everbranching and beautiful ramifications," the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $17 million in "Assembling the Tree of Life" grants to researchers at more than 25 institutions. Their studies range from investigations of entire pieces of DNA to assemble the bacterial branches; to the study of the origins of land plants from algae; to understanding the most diverse group of terrestrial predators, the spiders; to the diversity of fungi and parasitic roundworms; to the relationships of birds and dinosaurs.
"Despite the enormity of the task," said Quentin Wheeler, director of NSF's division of environmental biology, which funded the awards, "now is the time to reconstruct the tree of life. The conceptual, computational and technological tools are available to rapidly resolve most, if not all, major branches of the tree of life. At the same time, progress in many research areas from genomics to evolution and development is currently encumbered by the lack of a rigorous historical framework to guide research."
Scientists estimate that the 1.75 million known species are only 10 percent of the total species on earth, and that many of those species will disappear in the decades ahead. Learning about these species and their evolutionary history is epic in its scope, spanning all the life forms of an entire planet over its several billion year history, said Wheeler.
Why is assembling the tree of life so important? The tree is a picture of historical relationships that explains all similarities and differences among plants, animals and microorganisms. Because it explains biological diversity, the Tree of Life has proven useful in many fields, such as choosing experimental systems for biological research, determining which genes are common to many kinds of organisms and which are unique, tracking the origin and spread of emerging diseases and their vectors, bio-prospecting for pharmaceutical and agrochemical products, developing data bases for genetic information, and evaluating risk factors for species conservation and ecosystem restoration.
The Assembling the Tree of Life grants provide support for large multi-investigator, multi-institutional, international teams of scientists who can combine expertise and data sources, from paleontology to morphology, developmental biology, and molecular biology, says Wheeler. The awards will also involve developing software for improved visualization and analysis of extremely large data sets, and outreach and education programs in comparative phylogenetic biology and paleontology, emphasizing new training activities, informal science education, and Internet resources and dissemination.
For a list of the Assembling the Tree of Life grants, see: http://www.nsf.gov/bio/pubs/awards/atol_02.htm
A little something for a quiet weekend's musings.
"What men... believe---really does matter."
From Dr. Fuz Rana: "...the hominid fossil record is not a family "tree" but a "lawn."
("Toumai Man Offers Evolutionists No Hope," Connections, 3rd & 4th Quarter 2002, Quarterly Newsletter of Reasons to Believe.)
Crayola stock took a big bump!
No it does not. Evolutionists claimed that mitochondrial DNA would verify the classifications that had been made by phenotype. However, this has proved false. It has given some very different results and now evolutionists have thrown out mtDNA as proving their theory:
1. Ying Cao, Axel Janke, Peter J. Waddell, Michael Westerman, Osamu Takenaka, Shigenori Murata, Norihiro Okada, Svante Pääbo, and Masami Hasegawa, Conflict Among Individual Mitochondrial Proteins in Resolving the Phylogeny of Eutherian Orders, Journal of Molecular Evolution 47 (1998): 307-322.
It is widely believed that molecular data confirm morphological data when the history of groups such as the mammals is being reconstructed. Many cases exist, however, where molecules (such as proteins) give false or erroneous phylogenies. This paper, by a team of researchers from Japan, Germany, and Australia, demonstrates that different mitochondrial proteins can give different, and contradictory, groupings. In particular, the protein NADH dehydrogenase (ND1) places primates and rodents together as closest relatives, with ferungulates (artiodactyls + cetaceans + perisodactyls + carnivores) as more distantly related to primates -- in contradiction to most other data, which places primates and ferungulates together as closest relatives. The authors conclude that this anomalous phylogenetic grouping is not due to a stochastic error, but is due to convergent or parallel evolution (p. 321), suggesting that molecular evidence is not free from the confounding (historically misleading) effects known to plague other types of systematic data, such as anatomical patterns.
From: Bibliography presented to Ohio BD of Ed .