Assembling the Tree of life

How are scientists assembling a the Tree of life?

In a phylogenetic tree, each node with descendants represents the most recent common ancestor of the descendants, and the edge lengths in some trees correspond to time estimates. Each node is called a taxonomic unit. Internal nodes are generally called hypothetical taxonomic units (HTUs) as they cannot be directly observed.

Morphological, biochemical, and gene sequence data suggests that all organisms on Earth are genetically related, and the genealogical relationships of living things can be represented by a vast evolutionary tree

Whether adding information to existing branches, untangling others or revealing new ‘twigs’ and ‘leaves’, these efforts contribute to revealing the shape of the Tree of life.

In turn, the branching patterns and lengths of branches allow us to define the ancestral forms and conditions, and to choose between competing phylogenetic possibilities

that explain what is observed in the fossil record or in living organisms.

Advances in computing, bioinformatics, molecular biology, visualisation and quantification of small or hidden features, and application of these techniques to our collections are all assisting our phylogenetic research.

Whether adding information to existing branches, untangling others or revealing new ‘twigs’ and ‘leaves’, these efforts contribute to revealing the shape of the Tree of life.

In turn, the branching patterns and lengths of branches allow us to define the ancestral forms and conditions, and to choose between competing phylogenetic possibilities that explain what is observed in the fossil record or in living organisms.

Scientists at the Museum use and contribute to the Tree of Life over many different taxonomic levels, from populations to Kingdoms, and over time scales from generations to hundreds of millions of years.

Phylogenomics is the use of molecular data on a genomic scale to infer phylogenies and has recently altered our understanding of key branching points in the animal Tree of life.