1 February 2022

Scientists pass the halfway mark in completing the plant tree of life

More than 1.5 billion letters of genetic code have been made publicly available.

By Kew Science News

Very bright ball of sunshine shining through a woodland

Today marks another significant breakthrough in an ambitious project to complete the tree of life for plants.

Genomic data for over half of all 13,600 flowering plant genera are now freely available online to anyone anywhere through the Kew Tree of Life Explorer.

These data provide vital foundations for ensuring global biodiversity is conserved, protected, and restored while also helping to identify plant species, allowing the exploration of new medicinal compounds and predicting how species will respond to future environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss.

The tree of life is the fundamental biological roadmap for navigating the evolution and properties of life on Earth.

Kew scientists have been working on building the tree of life for plants together with over 300 scientists from 21 countries and 117 institutes, including Genomics for Australian Plants (supported by Bioplatforms Australia, enabled by NCRIS).

Building the tree requires the comparison of DNA sequences.

More than 70% of this DNA has been sourced from specimens and samples from Kew’s vast collections, with some specimens as old as 200-years.

Dr William Baker, who leads Kew’s Plant Tree of Life Initiative says

“No comparable unified genomic resource for the flowering plant tree of life research has ever been created. It’s an incredible privilege to see each genus fall into place in the tree as it is sequenced, almost like watching evolution in real time. We’re successfully sequencing species that scientists have struggled with for years.” 

The data released today, which covers 99% of the 416 plant families and 55% of flowering plant genera, marks the second release since the online portal was launched last year and is the culmination of the six year project.

Funding has recently been secured to complete the project for all flowering plant genera.

New Scientist article

Read the New Scientist article "Huge genetic database includes over 9000 species of flowering plants"

A phylogenetic tree on a computer screen

Tree of Life Explorer

The gateway to Kew’s research and data on the plant tree of life

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