First pages of Encyclopedia of Life unveiled

26 February 2008

The first 30,000 pages of the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) website, including content from research at the Natural History Museum, are unveiled today.

The EOL project is creating a free online encyclopedia of all 1.8 million living species on Earth, something they hope to complete by 2017. It is a collaboration of the world's leading scientific institutions and scientists at the Natural History Museum are playing a major role.

Tomato and potato

One of the Museum's areas of expertise is the plant genus Solanum, to which the tomato and potato belong. These plants are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family and are extremely important globally.

Museum plant expert, Dr Sandy Knapp, and her colleagues have studied tomatoes and potatoes for more than 10 years and for the last fours years have been working on a worldwide treatment of Solanum and the Solanaceae Source website . This research is now available to both scientists and the public in the EOL pages.

'Although specialists have always worked closely together,' says Dr Knapp, 'this really is the first time that anyone interested in the natural world will be able to find out information on plant and animal species in one place - from world experts to school children.'

Anyone with an interest in, for example, tomatoes can now:

Sample page of one of the 30,000 EOL pages unveiled today.

Sample page of one of the 30,000 EOL pages unveiled today.

  • Share scientific research - scientists worldwide can upload research and cross reference their findings, which will lead to better understanding of things like tomato distribution.
  • Help in identifying species - the pages will help clarify species names from the many synonyms that exist around the world, so that people talking about a particular species can be sure they are talking about the same thing.
  • Identify large-scale biodiversity patterns - until now, there hasn't been one single place that gives access to the huge amount of information about diversity. Scientists will now be able to identify trends, evolutionary patterns and other things previously not possible.
  • Find out basic information about the tomato, upload gardening tips, identification guides for amateurs, or even share tomato-based recipes.
Contribute to EOL development

'The exciting part about this phase of EOL, however, is that people who test it out now can really contribute to the way EOL develops in the future,' says Dr Knapp.

'Comments from scientists, editors and the public will be used to refine the way data are presented and to create the most exciting and accessible source of information on the Earth's species ever attempted.'

'By working together and all contributing we can really bring everyone together to address some of the major issues facing our planet today.'

Dr Sandy Knapp takes part in a Nature Live discussion this week, open to the public, at the Museum.