The Diversity of Life


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On April 19 and 20th, forty representatives of two global projects, the Consortium for the Barcode of Life and Assembling the Tree of Life, came together at NESCent for the first time. The meeting was organized by Cliff Cunningham, Simon Tillier, Bob Hanner, David Schindel, Joel Cracraft, Michael Donoghue, and Laura Katz. They met to discuss how the projects complement one another and how they might work together to become more than the sum of the two projects. The workshop was held under the auspices of the DIVERSITAS bioGENESIS program, and funded by the Sloan Foundation.

Michael Donoghue said that, “While the basic approach of the two groups is different, the overall goal of both groups is similar – understanding the diversity of life.” CBOL currently uses a single diagnostic gene, the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase 1, to identify vast numbers of organisms. AToL uses a variety of genes, fossils, and other data to build phylogenies for diverse groups across the tree of life. Although the approaches are different, the biological samples and techniques each group uses overlap. The goal of the meeting was to discuss ways in which the two groups could coordinate their efforts and advance both projects, and to explore potential research questions that could be addressed through joint efforts. Participants agreed that sharing resources, exploring potential collaborative projects and enhancing communication would be mutually beneficial.

The two projects have the potential to tackle many important questions in evolutionary biology research. Data from these projects could be used to address questions about patterns of evolution, the interplay between macro- and micro-evolution, and diversification rates within and between species.

New tools in the field, in particular chip technologies, will have a profound impact on how each of these projects is carried out. As access to whole genomes and proteomes becomes faster, cheaper, and more reliable, quick characterizations of genomes will benefit both projects. Planning how the two groups can work together to benefit from these new technologies and to deal with the upsurge in information will make research easier in the future.

This was the first meeting of these groups, and a number of joint activities were identified. In fact, barcoding and TOL groups working on Cypriniformes and Lepidoptera have already established cooperative agreements which are proving to be productive for both groups. The meeting organizers will convene small groups of representatives from the two initiatives who share an interest in pursuing these activities. In general, participants agreed that more communication and collaboration between the groups will benefit both.


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