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Tree of life fertilized

Grants issued for new species inventory program, as similar project prepares to shut down.

Ricki Lewis(ralewis@nycap.rr.com)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) this week announced $17 million in research grants for filling-in the Tree of Life, a phylogenetic family portrait of all species on Earth. "The conceptual, computational and technological tools are available to rapidly resolve most, if not all, major branches of the tree," Quentin Wheeler, director of NSF's division of environmental biology, said in a printed statement Monday.

The "Assembling the Tree of Life" projects will combine data from genomics, ecology, developmental biology, and biochemistry to discover and describe species and their relationships. The program's ultimate goal is to create a foundation of natural history to which researchers can keep adding data. The tree is now rather sparse, including only 1.8 million of the possible 10–to–100 million modern species.

With so much untapped diversity, choosing projects was difficult, program director Diana Lipscomb told The Scientist. "No one at NSF set up a...

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