The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding a new initiative to build a comprehensive evolutionary tree for all life on Earth.  The program, “Assembling, Visualizing, and Analyzing the Tree of Life” (AVAToL) has made three awards to scientists who will work to create a central place where researchers can go to see and analyze the entire tree of life.

“The AVAToL awards are an exciting new direction for an area that’s a foundation of much of biology,” says Alan Townsend, director of NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology.  “That’s critical to understanding a changing relationship between human society and Earth’s biodiversity.”

The program aims to overcome several difficulties that have plagued researchers.  One challenge is dealing with information about millions of species.  New computational tools for analyzing large data sets and heterogeneous data will be needed.

AVAToL will differ from past efforts in that is will create an open, dynamic framework that can be updated as new data becomes available.  Researchers will be able to access and edit the tree online.

More information about the funded projects is available at http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=124386&WT.mc_id=USNSF_51&WT.mc_ev=click.