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Tree of Life project grows more leaves and branches

The Tree of Life is flourishing.

The Web-based project, a massive collaboration among scientists from all over the world, is growing more "leaves" and "branches" all the time. The project is basically a genealogy of life on Earth coupled with information about the characteristics of individual species and groups of organisms.

Having such scientific data available on the Web makes the information accessible to a wide range of scientists, spurring new collaborations and insights about the relationships between life forms ranging from aardvarks to zoospores.

"My dream is to be able to do grand-scale analyses of patterns of life across all of life," said David Maddison, the originator of the Tree of Life Project and a professor of entomology at The University of Arizona in Tucson. "So much of our understanding of biological patterns is vitally informed by the shape of the evolutionary history that connects life. You need to think about the evolutionary tree along which genes have flowed in order to explain why organisms are as they are."

Now the challenge for project organizers is to develop easier, yet more sophisticated, ways for scientists to contribute to the Tree, and also make the Web-based data easier for the public to contribute to and to use.

Katja Schulz, managing editor of the Tree of Life Project at UA, will discuss the system of user interfaces being built by the project that will allow people ranging from research scientists to school children to publish information about organisms and their evolutionary relationships on the World Wide Web as part of the project.

Schulz said, "It's bringing big science to people outside the science community."

She will give her talk, "Digital Dissemination of the Tree of Life," on Monday, Feb. 20, at 11:45 a.m. at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in St. Louis. Her presentation will be in Rm. 222 of the America's Center, 701 Conve
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Contact: Mari N. Jensen
mnjensen@email.arizona.edu
520-626-9635
University of Arizona
20-Feb-2006


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