(WNS)–In the 158 years since Charles Darwin developed the idea that all living organisms evolved from one common ancestor, scientists have attempted to prop up the so-called “tree of life” theory against the prevailing winds of reason. Since 1859, little empirical evidence has supported the concept, but a team of researchers from Rutgers University thinks reshaping the tree could help prove its existence.
The researchers say the tree doesn’t give the full picture of evolution because it depicts various families of organisms as independent branches. A better picture would show how forms of life such as microbes and their hosts are linked physically and evolve together. “The goal is to transform a two-dimensional tree into one that is multidimensional and includes biological interactions among species,” researcher Debashish Bhattacharya said in a statement.
Even though the researchers want to reshape Darwin’s tree, they were quick to defend their champion. “What we wish to clearly stress is that we are not engaged in Darwin-bashing. We consider Darwin a hero of science,” Bhattacharya said.
But failure to give microbes their due credit is not the only problem that has eaten away the roots of Darwin’s tree, said Jonathan Wells, a biologist and author. Even in 2000 when he wrote Zombie Science: More Icons of Evolution, there were many scientific problems with the tree of life concept. “And now, 17 years later, the problems have grown worse,” Wells said in a video posted on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News and Science blog.
It seems no reshaping of the tree can overcome its difficulties. Recently, the discovery of orphan genes, genes that do not show descent from a common ancestor because they have no similarity to genes in other species, has begun chopping away at the tree. The only way scientists can keep believing the illusion is to simply ignore the existence of orphan genes, Wells said: “The reason we get a tree, in the first place is only because we assume at the outset that it’s there.”