Your relatives are bacteria

TreeofLifeWhen Charles Darwin’s famous book, “On the Origin of Species,” was published in 1859, it took science and society by storm. Coming on the heels of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, Darwin’s book catalyzed a veritable new industry of trying explaining the natural world, both to good and ill effect (for instance, the idea of evolution gave racists new ammunition in their efforts to discriminate against non-whites).

To-date (save for one effort in the 1970s), Darwin’s tree of life has remained in the public imagination largely unchained save for cosmetic variations. Until now. Researchers at Berkeley have just created a new tree of life by sampling the DNA of more than 3,000 species and feeding this information into a supercomputer to evaluate the vast number of possible trees.

The result is breathtaking, showing a world dominated by bacteria (which we already knew), but also where and when our evolutionary history we may have sprouted into the branch we recognize from Darwin’s work. The implications of this ingenious piece of informatics are broad, opening the door to discovering new species and better understanding how our own DNA works.

Click here to read more from this April 11 New York Times article.

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