Time Tree of All Earth Life
(Top Posts - Science - 061509)

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June 10, 2009

New initiative traces the beginning
of species' life on Earth
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Beginning this week, scientists and nonscientists now
have easy access to information about when living
species and their ancestors originated, information
that previously was difficult to find or inaccessible.

Free access to the information is part of the new Time-
tree of Life initiative developed by Blair Hedges, a
professor of biology at Penn State University, and
Sudhir Kumar, a professor of life sciences at Arizona
State University.

The Timetree of Life project debuted this week with
the simultaneous release of a major online resource
called "TimeTreeWeb" (http://www.timetree.org),
and a book titled "The Timetree of Life" (Oxford
University Press) ...

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Time Tree Resources
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Time Tree -- The Timescale of Life
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Adobe file with sizable graphic displaying
all life on a timetree
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Nobel laureate James D. Watson, co-discoverer of
the structure of DNA, comments in his foreword to
the book, "I look in wonder at The Timetree of Life,
at the breadth of life that it covers, and the extraordin-
ary data presented in it."

"The ultimate goal of the Timetree of Life initiative is
to chart the timescale of life -- to discover when each
species and all their ancestors originated, all the way
back to the origin of life some four billion years ago."


"The TimeTreeWeb tool belongs to a new genre of
resources that lets anyone easily mine knowledge
previously locked up in technical research articles,
without needing to know the jargon of the field." ...
"For example, if you type in 'cat' and 'dog' ... the
program will navigate through the timetree of life to
the point where the cat and dog species split, and
it will find all the studies bearing on that divergence.
Within a few seconds, you will learn that your pet
cat and dog diverged in evolutionary time about 50
to 60 million years ago."


One fifth of "The Timetree of Life" book contains
new data, published for the first time, which fill
many gaps in the family tree of life down to the
taxonomic level of "family" (groups of species).

For example, the book's chapter on stingrays and
sharks is the first published timetree analysis of
the existing molecular data about these animals.

Almost all of the previously published data re-
viewed in the book became known only recently,
in the hundreds of scientific articles published dur-
ing the past five or ten years.


Over 800 studies currently are searchable in the
TimeTreeWeb, with more being added continu-


Each chapter of "The Timetree of Life" book is
a review of the evolutionary history of the families
within a particular group of organisms, such as
mosses, ferns, fungi, beetles, sea urchins, frogs
and toads, turtles, owls, primates, and many

The chapters each contain a photograph of a
representative organism, a color-coded time-
tree showing how the families are related and
when they split from their closest relative, and
a table with divergence times.


Support for developing TimeTreeWeb has come
from the U. S. National Science Foundation, the
Astrobiology Institute of the U. S. National Aero-
nautics and Space Administration, the Science
Foundation of Arizona, and the Biodesign Insti-
tute of ASU.

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