Putting Mankind In Its Place

Now, this right here is just a beautiful thing. It is beautiful for many reasons including:

  • It represents a very small but significant part of what we have painstakingly learned about the world we live in.
  • It helps us come to a better understanding of where we fit in that world.
  • It is readily accessible factual information offered free of charge for no other reason than a desire to advance human knowledge.

Some interesting tidbits:

Typhlonectes natans, who resides just counterclockwise of us, is none other than the rubber eel (commonly seen in pet stores). Our neighbor on the other side, Mus musculus, is your standard house mouse (commonly seen chasing 50s housewives up onto dining chairs).

The diagram comes out of the analysis of small subunit rRNA sequences sampled from about 3,000 different species.

The number of organisms represented in this enormous sampling is approximately the square-root of the number of species believed to actually exist on our planet.

Credit for this wonderful work goes to David M. Hillis, Derrick Zwickl, and Robin Gutell from the University of Texas.

You can download a 370KB .pdf file of the entire shebang as well as the simplified version shown here at the link posted above or you can just get interactive.

Read and post comments


About kirkstarr

I draw pictures for a living.
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16 Responses to Putting Mankind In Its Place

  1. Toe-Knee says:

    I don't understand how it's organized… and how the lines in the center connect things… it says by RNA, but what are the patterns?

  2. jaypo says:

    Amazing how it looks like the iris of a human eye.

  3. Kirk says:

    Now that you mention it, I guess it was rather inconsiderate of me not to present a little better idea of what you were actually looking at.The organization is such that you can follow lines back to see what common biological ancestors different organisms have in common. It's basically a chart of evolution. We don't know exactly what is in the middle yet, but we're trying very hard to find out! :)Think of it as a tree with the roots being at the center and the branches extending outward. The Wiki is pretty helpful, as it has varying illustrations of the same idea.For what it's worth, here's an excerpt from The Origin of the Species wherein Darwin describes what is being diagrammed (emphasis is mine):"…branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only in a fossil state. As we here and there see a thin, straggling branch springing from a fork low down in a tree, and which by some chance has been favoured and is still alive on its summit, so we occasionally see an animal like the [Platypus] or [South American Lungfish], which in some small degree connects by its affinities two large branches of life, and which has apparently been saved from fatal competition by having inhabited a protected station."Here are some other cool links:http://tolweb.org/tree/http://eol.org/indexPretty cool stuff.

  4. Kirk says:

    Were I to do an illustration involving a cyborg, I would have its irises consist of the lines of the simplified diagram overlaid across its ocular sensors. Only educated people would get it. And even some of them might miss the point. 😛

  5. Toe-Knee says:

    Cool. That helps a lot. Your brain custard has a very rich and hearty flavor that I may need to mix into a recipe I'm working on. How knowledgable are you with animal behavior and simulation design?

  6. Drude says:

    This is excellent, Kirk.It's so hard to explain to people that evolution is not directional, that we are not a later development of say the mosquito you just saw.. and we are not the most perfect final destination of evolution – but that everything alive today has spent exactly the same amount of time diverging away from our original common ancestor – including bacteria and amoebae… chimps, for instance, are not primitive humans, they have evolved pretty much EXACTLY the same amount of time as we have since our last common ancestor… they're a parallel line to ours.This illustration captures that image. Of course it doesn't show that some lineages diverge faster than others, and that for instance the size of a population, it's generation times, the selection pressure it faces and its mode of reproduction (sexual or asexual) has an effect on the length of the branches (=the speed of divergence).

  7. Kzinti says:

    Awesome… I love RNA and DNA studies…

  8. mariser says:

    very very awesome, kirk. there is such an art in representing ideas, even scientific ones, in visual form. is a whole different language (and of course, you know that)I 2nd drude's comments in the nature of evolution. doesn't seem that hard the way she explains it.

  9. bodhibound says:

    looooooooooooooove it

  10. Even just as a work of art, it's stunning. 🙂

  11. Steve B says:

    So what happens if the lines don't connect in the center?

  12. Agonyzer says:

    Scientific data meets artistic insight. Hard to beat!

  13. Drude says:

    If the lines didn't meet in the center, it would indicate more than one origin of life… which of course is an interesting possibility to consider… Until now the lines have always met though… suggesting that we all descend from a single lineage…. Which is not the same as excluding that life has originated multiple times… just evidence that only one lineages survived to the present.

  14. Erin says:

    This is really cool, Kirk. Thanks for sharing!

  15. RobiNZ says:

    That's a brilliant presentation, much more powerful than the usual tree analogy

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