The main thrust of the Tree of Life project is to provide a central repository where specialists can publish data on the characteristics, family trees and other scientific information about specific groups of organisms.
Schulz said, "This makes the information accessible to people -- and for free. There's no one book that has this information. In addition, our site is constantly updated. Although some pages are five years old, other pages are hot off the presses."
Having all the data in one place is the key to facilitating new connections between scientists and new insights about biology. However, to make it possible for various researchers to compare their data, the information is best presented in a standardized format. So one aspect of current work on the project is developing standardized ways for researchers to upload their data, thereby making it easier for researchers to use and compare each others' data.
Another aspect of the project is public outreach. Schulz said, "The project makes information available to people who might not have access to the written [scientific] literature. ... The Tree of Life started out as a tool for researchers, but it immediately got a lot of attention from teachers and kids."
So she and her colleagues are constructing sections of the Tree that allow the public to contribute and to use the information. "Right now we work with teachers, and we're starting to do family registration."
A special section of the Web site, called Treehouses, is written by members of the public. "It takes the kids' interest in being a Web author and combines it with their interest in organisms." The contributions don't have to be science, she added, citing one page which includes origami figures.
She also wants to improve the visualization tools associated with the Web site. The Tree of Life Web site has more than 4,000 pages and 10,000 pictures. It's hard to take in the enor
Contact: Mari N. Jensen
University of Arizona