A consortium of scientific institutions has joined forces to create the Encyclopedia of Life, a comprehensive database of all the knowledge known about the world’s species. The first batch of information, comprising data on 30,000 different species, has gone live, and the project plans to cover the rest of the 1.8 million known species in the next ten years. To give a sense of scope of the project, the consortium plans to scan 1 million volumes of biological text to be entered into the database.
In essence, EOL will be a microscope in reverse, or “macroscope,” helping users to discern large-scale patterns. By aggregating information on Earth’s estimated 1.8 million known species, scientists say the EOL could, for example, help map vectors of human disease, reveal mysteries behind longevity, suggest substitute plant pollinators for a swelling list of places where honeybees no longer provide that service, and foster strategies to slow the spread of invasive species.
Most importantly, the EOL will be a foundational resource for helping to conserve the species already known and to identify millions of additional species that haven’t yet been described or named. At its core is the knowledge about the world’s species that has been discovered by scientists over the last 250 years. By putting this information all together in one place, EOL hopes to accelerate our understanding of the world’s remaining biodiversity.
The MBL has played a major role in developing the Encyclopedia of Life, which was officially launched in the spring of 2007. The EOL Biodiversity Informatics Group, based at the MBL and led by David J. Patterson, created the software for the EOL Web portal, which goes live today with the first species pages (www.eol.org). Each species page is an aggregation, or “mash-up,” of text, images, video, scientific data, and other information drawn from many different sources, and all vetted by scientific experts.
Press release from Marine Biological Discovery in Woods Hole: MBL Creates Portal for Online “Macroscope” to Explore Life’s Mysteries
Encyclopedia of Life project page…