The Many Challenges of Kew Gardens’ Tree of Life Project

This is an article I wrote for UCL Kinesis Magazine throughout the 2nd Term of the 2020-21 academic year. It discusses Kew Garden’s PAFTOL project and the challenges in realizing such ambitious goals.

Reflecting on the aims of an ambitious plan and the thorny challenges therein.

Writer: Joshua Williams
Editor: Altay Shaw
Artist: Sophie North

A 2016 Kew report estimated the known number of currently existing plant species to be just under four hundred thousand. Since then, one branch of their Plant and Fungal Tree of Life project (PAFTOL) has sought to understand the evolutionary relationships in this incredibly diverse group. The project envisions a powerful collaborative resource, one that is flexible, reproducible, and contains high quality, up-to-date information.

This inspiring goal was set out in a 2018 roadmap publication in the American Journal of Botany, which identified both the key requirements in a set of calls to action, as well as potential challenges. Such obstacles face not only this project, but reflect the broader difficulties of bringing large numbers of people and organisations together with a common goal. In this way, the…

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