- The Loom
Tree of Life, c. 2006
Scientists are probably centuries away from drawing the full tree of life. For one thing, they have only discovered a small fraction of the species on Earth–perhaps only ten percent. They are also grappling with the relationships between the species they have discovered. Systematists (scientists who study the tree of life) rely mainly on DNA these days to figure out how species are related to one another. They compare the similarities and differences in a given gene in several different species to figure out which ones share the closest kinship. But they have actually sequenced DNA from relatively few species. And in many cases, that DNA may come from a single gene.
Systematists have made good use of this scanty data.