Doug Soltis with the Tree of LifeFLORIDA MUSEUM PHOTO BY KRISTEN GRACEPiecing together 484 previously created phylogenetic trees for various groups of organisms, University of Florida plant biologist Doug Soltis and his colleagues have created the most comprehensive Tree of Life to date, incorporating some 2.3 million known species. They published their results Friday (September 18) in the PNAS.

The researchers hope the tree will inform diverse scientific research, from drug development to investigations of climate change and infectious disease. “There is nothing more foundational or important than knowing how organisms are related,” Soltis said in a press release. “[T]here is predictive power in the Tree of Life.”

But the new tree is just a first draft. “This is the first real attempt to connect the dots and put it all together,” coauthor Karen Cranston of Duke University said in a statement. “Think of it...

Soltis agreed. “This tree is just a starting point. Most trees of species relationships are based on DNA data, but less than 5 percent of all species on Earth actually have DNA data available. Plus there’s still so much diversity out there that we know nothing about. . . . With tens of millions of species out there still undiscovered, I hope this first draft inspires more interest in biodiversity, because with that interest and further research, the tree will continue to grow.”

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