How did life on Earth go from simple single cells to incredibly complex organisms? In the world’s first real attempt to connect the dots and put it all together, the Open Tree of Life links all biodiversity through a shared evolutionary history.
The Open Tree of Life aims to construct a fully “comprehensive, dynamic, and digitally-available tree of life” using the data already published by phylogenic trees of life from around the world. The Open Tree of Life builds on the work of previous researchers, who have created some tens of thousands of smaller ‘trees’ for individual branches, and it took the team three years to complete, collating the information from the smaller trees into what they call a “supertree” of life.
The entire history of living things – at least most of everything we know so far – has been included in the Open Tree of Life. The earliest forms of life were microbial organisms living in the Earth’s oceans between 3.9 billion and 2.5 billion years ago. In the following millions of years, life on Earth exploded. The Tree of Life encompasses every life form known and named, from fungi to shale fossils to birds, mammals and Homo sapiens, illustrating the relationships as life diverged from a single point.
Today, some 2.3 million species have been identified and named, and more are still being discovered.
The Open Tree of Life is a new resource, open and free to use by anyone in the world, created by a group of 11 different institutions. Their goal was to reconstruct “the phylogenetic relationships that unite all lineages” in as complete a manner as possible.
The Open Tree of Life can be explored and – in the near future – edited. By making this data readily accessible and editable, it is hoped that this work will help researchers to “fill in the gaps” between what we know and what we don’t know. It will also serve as a starting point for adding new species as they are discovered and named.
Researchers and specialists can contribute to the synthetic tree by uploading trees through the Open Tree of Life curation interface.
Explore the latest version of a continually-updated tree of all species: