Why Study the Tree of Life?

The Tree of Life is of great scientific interest, but does it have immediate practical value? The answer is a definite Yes!

By providing a chronicle of past evolutionary events, phylogenetic trees have become central to understanding the process of evolution, and therefore to the interpretation of all biological information. Phylogenetic comparisons with model organisms (such as the chimpanzee, mouse, zebra fish, and yeast) are providing major insights into the structure and function of the human genome, knowledge that will enable us to address a wide variety of human disorders. Medical journals routinely publish phylogenetic trees, which have proven to be critical in identifying and tracing the origins of emerging infectious diseases such as HIV, the Ebola and West Nile viruses, anthrax, and influenza.

Travels in the Great Tree of Life was produced for the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History with the support from the U.S. National Science Foundation through the CIPRes and Angiosperm Tree of Life Programs.



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