Assembling the Tree  of Life

Conference Purpose:

One of the most profound ideas to emerge from biological research over the last decade is the realization that all life, from the smallest microorganism to the largest vertebrate, is connected through phylogenetic relatedness to form a single, vast evolutionary tree, the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life provides the framework for much of our modern understanding of biology because it reveals the diversity of life as well as the historical basis for similarity and differences among organisms. The convergence of three important developments: (1) conceptual and methodological advances in phylogenetic analysis; (2) the rise of comparative genomics with its vast quantities of data; and (3) rapid advances in information technology and processing, have now made possible the construction of a robust Tree of Life depicting the genealogical relationships of all known species. Increased knowledge of phylogenetic relationships will improve human health, push back the frontiers of comparative developmental biology, meet threats to agriculture and forestry from invasive species and pests, and improve management of our natural resources. The substantial growth in our knowledge of the Tree of Life generated by AToL will enable a whole new approach to managing, relating, and manipulating biological information held in numerous databases worldwide, including the burgeoning information from the genomic sciences, and to understanding the relationships among them.

In 2001, the National Science Foundation funded one round of tree of life grants in the Biocomplexity Program (GEN-EN), and then beginning in 2002 has so far funded three annual rounds of grants in its "Assembling the Tree of Life Program," on topics ranging across the Tree. An ITR grant was also funded as part of this effort (known as CIPRES), as a collaboration between computer scientists and phylogenetic biologists, to help develop the cyber infrastructure (improved algorithms for analysis and better databases) needed to carry-out this effort. This conference was designed to take stock of these projects, review what works and what doesn't, explore new approaches for dealing with the vastly expanded data begin generated, and share ideas among the three cohorts of PIs and co-PIs. This meeting of all PIs and co-PIs of the AToL grants and CIPRES met November 19 - 21, 2004, at NSF in Washington, DC.

Goals of meeting:

  • Sharing of information among the current PIs and co-PIs about common goals and obstacles.
  • The establishment of a coordinating structure across the separate AToL programs.
  • lear understandings developed between CIPRES and the AToL grants, to coordinate informatics efforts across AToL.
  • New ways found to increase linkages between AToL and other efforts (at NSF, elsewhere in the US government, or internationally) in such areas as monographic taxonomy (e.g., PEET and REVSYS), ecology (e.g., LTER and NEON), evolution & development, physiology, and genomics
  • A better picture developed of where AToL should go in the future, both as individual projects and in terms of future grants and initiatives.
 
Official NSF Assembling the Tree of Life Project webpage.
We acknowledge NSF funding under award #0502081

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