GW researchers contribute to first draft of Tree of Life

Biological researchers have published the first draft of the Tree of Life, which links the evolutionary histories of close to 2.3 million named species of microbes, plants, and animals, according to a University release.

GW is one of 11 institutions to contribute to the new project, which was led by Karen Cranston, a research scientist at Duke University. It is the first complete compilation of all species, and will include data from smaller and previously published trees of life. It is now available online to browse and download.

The project will not be “static,” but rather “will develop tools for scientists to update and revise the tree as new data come in,” according to the project’s website website. The researchers say this will most likely be an important attribute, considering that when researchers started the project three years ago, there were only 1.8 million species recognized.

Keith Crandall, director of the Computational Biology Institute, brought a $350,000 grant to assemble the tree with him to GW in 2012. He said in the University release that compacting the pieces of evolutionary history into one database would be essential to further biological research.

“Now, we have a framework to take advantage of previously splintered knowledge joined through the OpenTree project into a single Tree of Life,” Crandall said in the article.

Christopher Owen, a post-doctoral scientist at GW also working in the Computational Biology Institute, was also a co-author of the draft.

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