Next Generation Phenomics for the Tree of Life
A multi-institutional collaboration to increase the use of phenomic data for phylogenetic tree-building by using:
Darwin’s theory of evolution explaining that species are related dealt biologists and paleontologists the enormous challenge of discovering what the Tree of Life looks like for millions of species. Ongoing work on this significant branching diagram builds the map of life on Earth and answers questions such as ‘what is the closest relative of a species?’ and ‘what species have important products or chemicals?’ To build the Tree of Life scientists draw on all heritable features including genotypes and phenotypes (e.g., anatomy). Studying phenotypes, however, has remained complex and slow, never revolutionized by computer science and engineering. Here a team of biologists, computer scientists and paleontologists take up this challenge to adapt methods of computer vision, machine learning, crowdsourcing and natural language processing to increase work in the discipline of phylophenomics on a large scale.
The three-year goal is to release large phenomic datasets built using the new methods above and to provide the public and scientific community with tools for future work. Planned is the training of teachers and students (kindergarten – postdoctoral levels), and the engagement of ‘citizen scientists’. Huge phenomic datasets, many with images, will fill an important public interest in biodiversity and the fossil record.