Topic: Tree of Life

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Lumpers and Splitters

Science Tree of Life

Lumpers and splitters are opposing factions in any discipline that has to place individual examples into rigorously defined categories. The lumper–splitter problem occurs when there is the desire to create classifications and assign examples to them, for example schools of literature, biological taxa and so on. A "lumper" is an individual who takes a gestalt view of a definition, and assigns examples broadly, assuming that differences are not as important as signature similarities. A "splitter" is an individual who takes precise definitions, and creates new categories to classify samples that differ in key ways.

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The Species Problem

History of Science Tree of Life

The species problem is the set of questions that arises when biologists attempt to define what a species is. Such a definition is called a species concept; there are at least 26 recognized species concepts. A species concept that works well for sexually reproducing organisms such as birds is useless for species that reproduce asexually, such as bacteria. The scientific study of the species problem has been called microtaxonomy.

One common, but sometimes difficult, question is how best to decide which species an organism belongs to, because reproductively isolated groups may not be readily recognizable, and cryptic species may be present. There is a continuum from reproductive isolation with no interbreeding, to panmixis, unlimited interbreeding. Populations can move forward or backwards along this continuum, at any point meeting the criteria for one or another species concept, and failing others.

Many of the debates on species touch on philosophical issues, such as nominalism and realism, and on issues of language and cognition.

The current meaning of the phrase "species problem" is quite different from what Charles Darwin and others meant by it during the 19th and early 20th centuries. For Darwin, the species problem was the question of how new species arose. Darwin was however one of the first people to question how well-defined species are, given that they constantly change.

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Three-Domain System

Biology Evolutionary biology Tree of Life

The three-domain system is a biological classification introduced by Carl Woese et al. in 1990 that divides cellular life forms into archaea, bacteria, and eukaryote domains. In particular, it emphasizes the separation of prokaryotes into two groups, originally called Eubacteria (now Bacteria) and Archaebacteria (now Archaea). Woese argued that, on the basis of differences in 16S rRNA genes, these two groups and the eukaryotes each arose separately from an ancestor with poorly developed genetic machinery, often called a progenote. To reflect these primary lines of descent, he treated each as a domain, divided into several different kingdoms. Woese initially used the term "kingdom" to refer to the three primary phylogenic groupings, and this nomenclature was widely used until the term "domain" was adopted in 1990.

Parts of the three-domain theory have been fiercly challenged by scientists such as Radhey S. Gupta, who argues that the primary division within prokaryotes should be between those surrounded by a single membrane, and those with two membranes.

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