June 10, 2009

Web site offers species origin information

Two U.S. universities have created a Web site that offers easy access to the latest knowledge about the origin of species on Earth.

Developed by biologists at Penn State University and Arizona State University, the Web site for the first time offers access to information that previously was difficult to find or inaccessible.

Free access to the information is part of the new Timetree of Life initiative developed by Penn State Professor Blair Hedges and Arizona State Professor Sudhir Kumar.

The project, aside from the Web site, also includes the release of a book titled The Timetree of Life that was written by 105 experts on specific groups of organisms and was edited by Hedges and Kumar.

The ultimate goal of the Timetree of Life initiative is to chart the timescale of life -- to discover when each species and all their ancestors originated, all the way back to the origin of life some four billion years ago, Hedges said, noting the project includes information from previously unpublished scientific studies.

The TimeTreeWeb tool belongs to a new genre of resources that lets anyone easily mine knowledge previously locked up in technical research articles, without needing to know the jargon of the field, Kumar said.

More than 800 studies currently are searchable at http://www.timetree.org/.