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That's a Big Tree

Nearly every biologist has seen Charles Darwin's famous tree of life doodle, and now a group of researchers wants to create its own tree of life, says Carl Zimmer at The New York Times. Their tree is to include every known species on the planet — two million branches, Zimmer says. "Until recently, a complete tree of life would have been inconceivable," he adds. "To figure out how species are related to one another, scientists inspect each possible way they could be related. With each additional species, the total number of possible trees explodes."

The Open Tree of Life project, announced by the National Science Foundation in May, will have a three-year term, and the team, led by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center's Karen Cranston, is to receive a grant of $5.7 million to do the work, Zimmer says. They aim to publish a draft by August 2013

"Stephen Smith, a member of the team from the University of Michigan, hopes that the Open Tree of Life will allow scientists to tackle some major questions, including some that extend beyond evolutionary biology," Zimmer says. "The Open Tree of Life may be able to guide scientists in the search for new drugs, for example. Scientists trying to treat infectious bacteria could search for the fungi that make antibiotics that are effective against it."

The Daily Scan's sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News has more on the project here.

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