Rokas and Carroll have produced a most interesting paper on the results of genome analyses designed to resolve questions about the tree of life (TOL). They draw attention to a prediction made by Richard Dawkins:
However, the signs from the expanding research base suggest that this outcome is not likely to be reached. The analyses are producing bushes, not trees. â€œThe patterns observed in these clades are both important signals of biological history and symptoms of fundamental challenges that must be confronted.â€
â€œâ€¦ there is, after all, one true tree of life, the unique pattern of evolutionary branchings that actually happened. It exists. It is in principle knowable. We don't know it all yet. By 2050 we should â€“ or if we do not, we shall have been defeated only at the terminal twigs, by the sheer number of species.â€
Bushes in the tree of life
Rokas, A. and Carroll, S.B.
PLoS Biology, 2006, 4(11): e352, 1899-1904
First para: Genome analyses are delivering unprecedented amounts of data from an abundance of organisms, raising expectations that in the near future, resolving the tree of life (TOL) will simply be a matter of data collection. However, recent analyses of some key clades in life's history have produced bushes and not resolved trees. The patterns observed in these clades are both important signals of biological history and symptoms of fundamental challenges that must be confronted. Here we examine how the combination of the spacing of cladogenetic events and the high frequency of independently evolved characters (homoplasy) limit the resolution of ancient divergences. Because some histories may not be resolvable by even vast increases in amounts of conventional data, the identification of new molecular characters will be crucial to future progress.
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