Field Museum scientists will help lead three of the seven grants recently awarded to researchers around the world to construct a new framework for understanding the evolutionary relationships between all species, extinct and living.
These three projects (listed below) will focus on birds, spiders, and archosaurs (birds, dinosaurs, pterosaurs and crocodiles). They represent more than half the $12 million that NSF awarded for the first year of the Assembling the Tree of Life (AToL) program.
Darwin's inspired vision of a grand Tree of Life "with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications" has challenged scientists for generations. He speculated that all life forms from the smallest microorganism to the largest vertebrate are genetically related in a vast evolutionary tree. The tree imagery has prompted scientists to classify all organisms into groups and discern patterns of evolutionary and historical relationships that explain the similarities and differences between them.
Today, many branches of the Tree of Life remain unanalyzed, even unknown. AToL will address this problem, incorporating the flood of new information from genetic studies, fieldwork discoveries, and inventories of the earth's biota with existing information.
Phylogenetic information has proven useful in many ways, such as helping scientists focus biological research; track the origin and spread of diseases; develop new medicines and agrochemical products; conserve species; control invasive species biologically; and restore ecosystems.
"Progress in many research areas, from genomics to evolution, is being encumbered by the lack of a rigorous framework of evolutionary relationships," says Shannon Hackett, PhD, Field Museum assistant curator of birds and AToL investigator. "The conceptual, computation
Contact: Greg Borzo