From plankton to penguins to pterodactyl, every species that exists or has ever existed on planet Earth is related in some way. But try actually mapping out 3.5 billion years of evolution, and that’s when things get complicated. Of the tens of thousands of family trees that have been published over the years, none have even come close to encompassing the entire history of all living things on earth.
Now, researchers from 11 different institutions have combined 500 of those smaller trees into the most comprehensive “tree of life” to date. Incorporating 2.3 million known species, the colorful circular model shows every evolutionary branch, from the most basic bacteria to the most complex of metazoa.
When it comes to all of evolutionary history, coming “close” to completion is a relative term. According to this study, 8.7 million species exist on earth today and that number is expected to climb at least 15,000 over the coarse of the year. In other words, there’s still quite a ways to go, which is why the researchers made it open-source, allowing anyone to download the chart for free and edit or add an entry. The researchers hope that other scientists will begin to add their own data to get us that much closer.
“This is the first real attempt to connect the dots and put it all together,” said principal investigator Karen Cranston of Duke University in a statement. “Think of it as Version 1.0.”
If you’re eager to pitch in on the family effort, or get your hands on the raw data, click here.