Assembling the Tree  of Life

Summary of Results of Conference

An incredible range of topics was covered at the conference, as can be seen from the powerpoints of talks and the posters (hard copies of which went on long-term display in the halls of the National Science Foundation). Organisms discussed ranged across the Tree of Life, from bacteria to fungi, green plants, and birds. Innovative approaches are being taken to integrate comparative genomics, enormous DNA sequence alignments, comparative anatomy & morphology, and paleontology.

At this meeting it was clear that the 22 currently funded projects are making fast progress, and are producing data sets on a heretofore unimaginable scale. A paradigm shift has occurred in the field of biological systematics; the field has been transformed, with these large groups of collaborating workers pooling their efforts to advance towards a common goal -- a "big science" approach necessary to answer the really big questions, including reconstructing the enormously large and complex tree of life.

However, challenges still remain: (1) Many large and ecologically important branches of the tree of life (e.g., Archaea, forams, red algae, diatoms, brown algae, dinoflagellates, and mammals) are not yet covered. (2) Each group has begun developing data-handling informatics for their immediate needs, but there is no overall coordination of the many separate data-bases and analytical tools: duplication needs to be reduced, innovations need to be shared, data gathering and storage need to be automated to a greater extent, meta-databases need to be developed. (3) Phylogenetics is a world-wide endeavor; many non-US biologists are involved in the current projects (but with limited funding from NSF) and many more would like to be involved in these or similar projects. Funding from other first-world governments would greatly enhance overall progress towards this grand quest to understanding humans' place in the enormous family tree of life.

Official NSF Assembling the Tree of Life Project webpage.
We acknowledge NSF funding under award #0502081

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