Thursday, February 28, 2008

Encyclopedia of Life Is Alive!

First 30,000 Represents Just 1.6% of Known Species

The first 30,000 species have been added to an ambitious on-line catalog of the world's diverse life forms, the Encyclopedia of Life.

For anyone fascinated by the natural world, this is big news. It's an inspiration. Plus, it might finally help us all remember how it is those taxonomic divisions fit together. (Was that "kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species" ... or "kingdom, class, phylum, family, order, genus, species"?)

The database will also be a tool for scientists and policymakers looking to understand, protect and restore the world's biodiversity, for its own sake and for various species' potential to provide useful and valuable services to humanity. (Think everything from cure for cancer to replacement pollinators should the honeybee crisis spiral downward.) Some have suggested the world is in the midst of its sixth great extinction event, this one caused not by volcanism, meteor strikes or other catastrophe, but instead by human pollution and encroachment into wild habitats.

“The EOL provides an extraordinary window onto the living world, one that will greatly accelerate and expand the potential for biological and biomedical discovery,” says Gary G. Borisy, director and chief executive officer of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass., and a member of the EOL Steering Committee and Distinguished Advisory Board.

The 30,000 species in the database now is miniscule, not even 2% of the 1.8 million species known to science. No surprise, then, that it will take til 2017 to fill the database with 250 years of scientific exploration and discovery.

"It is exciting to anticipate the scientific chords we might hear once 1.8 million notes are brought together through this instrument," says Jim Edwards, Executive Director of the EOL. “Potential EOL users are professional and citizen scientists, teachers, students, media, environmental managers, families and artists. The site will link the public and scientific community in a collaborative way that’s without precedent in scale.”

Original here

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