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Perspectives On the Phylogenetic Tree

Perspectives On the Phylogenetic Tree

The concepts of phylogenetic modeling are constantly changing. It is one of the most dynamic fields of study in all of biology. Over the last several decades, new research has challenged scientists’ ideas about how organisms are related. New models of these relationships have been proposed for consideration by the scientific community.

Many phylogenetic trees have been shown as models of the evolutionary relationship among species. Phylogenetic trees originated with Charles Darwin, who sketched the first phylogenetic tree in 1837 (figure (a) below), which served as a pattern for subsequent studies for more than a century.

The concept of a phylogenetic tree with a single trunk representing a common ancestor, with the branches representing the divergence of species from this ancestor, fits well with the structure of many common trees, such as the oak (figure (b) below). However, evidence from modern DNA sequence analysis and newly developed computer algorithms has caused skepticism about the validity of the standard tree model in the scientific community.

 Image a shows Charles Darwin’s sketch of lines branching, like those on a tree. Photo b shows a photo of an oak tree with many branches.

The (a) concept of the “tree of life” goes back to an 1837 sketch by Charles Darwin. Like an (b) oak tree, the “tree of life” has a single trunk and many branches. (credit b: modification of work by “Amada44″/Wikimedia Commons)

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