The first interactive Tree of Life was created: all living things on one diagram

© 2016 Damien M. de Vienne.

Since DNA sequencing has become relatively cheap and fast, scientists have received a wealth of data on the genetic relationship of different species of living things. One of the largest databases on phylogenetics (the science of the evolutionary relationships of organisms) is maintained by the US National Center for Biotechnological Information (NCBI). As of October 2016, it contained information on 1.4 million species.

Recently, a work was published in PNAS magazine, in which scientists offered their colleagues the first comprehensive version of the phylogenetic tree of life - Open Tree of Life (OTOL). However, only specialists can use this tree: working with it requires many special knowledge and skills, but it looks like a computer program with a complex interface. A phylogenetic tree with a simple and understandable to the average user interactive structure still did not exist.

Now there is such a resource. Damien de Vienne has combined modern methods of information visualization (such as OpenStreetMap) and developed Lifemap - a platform on which the Tree of Life has appeared, which currently contains information on 802 639 (in the version for a wide audience) views, existing and extinct.

© 2016 Damien M. de Vienne. Man's place in the eukaryotic domain

Lifemap consists of three main groups (domains), the allocation of which was suggested in 1990 by the founder of molecular phylogenetics, Karl Woese. The first domain is archaea, unicellular organisms that have no nucleus or other organelles: there are now 3733 species of archaea in the Tree. The second is bacteria (277, 426 species), the third is eukaryotes, that is, organisms in the cells of which there is a nucleus (521480 species today in the Lifemap general public). These include many living things from fly agaric to man.

10 technologies inspired by nature

You can click on all nodes of the tree to get detailed information about the taxon or species. You can enter the English or Latin name of the species or other taxon in the search bar. Using the View full ancestry command, you can trace the evolutionary history of the selected species, and by filling in the second search bar, you can find the closest common ancestor of any two species belonging to the same domain. At the same time, the system gives a complete clickable list of all ancestors of both species, up to the nearest common one.

© 2016 Damien M. de Vienne. On Lifemap, you can find the closest common ancestor of the wolf (Canis lupus) and humans (Homo sapiens)

Now Tree of Life exists in three versions, in which the tree itself is distinguished, as well as the quantity and sources of accompanying information. The version for a wide audience (Lifemap general public) includes the ability to add images and links to articles on Wikipedia in the description of the types of images, and if there is no corresponding article, the user is invited to create it.

The Lifemap NCBI version contains the entire taxonomy according to the NCBI and is updated once a week. By clicking on the desired tree node, the user receives additional information about the number of species in the taxon, a link to the NCBI web page with a description of the taxon, and the ability to download the corresponding section of the tree. If desired, in this version you can create an additional layer and show all types of the indicated taxon, the genome of which is already sequenced.

The third version is called Lifemap OTOL (Open Tree of Life). In it, the user will see a phylogenetic tree according to OTOL, which was described above.

A detailed description of Lifemap is published in the journal PLOS Biology.

Do you like the article?

The most interesting news from the world of science: fresh discoveries, photos and incredible facts in your mail. OK I agree to the rules of the site Thank you. We have sent a confirmation email to your email.


Food Flavors: Benefit or Harm?
What is turbocharging and how does it work
How it is made: Velcro