Tree of Life


The Tree of Life is the genealogy of members of a very big family: a family that comprises all living beings. This family includes all animals, plants, and fungi, but most of the diversity actually corresponds to other lesser-known creatures invisible to the naked eye!

Come explore the amazing world of microscopic creatures that thrive in a single water drop! And are you able to tell the evolutionary links between the animals and plants you know?


Swedish summary:

Livets träd är stamtavlan för medlemmarna i en mycket stor familj: en familj som omfattar alla levande varelser. Denna familj innehåller alla djur, växter, och svampar, men den största delen av familjen består faktiskt av mindre kända organismer som är osynliga för det blotta ögat!

Kom och utforska den fantastiska världen av mikroorganismer som frodas i en enda vattendroppe! Testa också om du kan lista ut de evolutionära sambanden mellan de djur och växter som du känner till!



All life on earth evolved from the same ancestral cell, approximately 4 billion years ago. A key evidence for this is that all life forms encode information in the same way, using DNA. DNA changes over time, and looking at differences between the DNA of different species we can trace the evolutionary path that unite these species back in time. All evolutionary paths form what we call the Tree of Life. Can you tell how the animals or plants you know are related to each other in evolutionary terms? Did you know that most life can not be seen with the naked eye? You’ll be able to explore the microscopic world with amazing creatures that thrive in a single water drop! Bring your own water samples from the pond in your backyard or the park, from the lake or sea, and take a look under our microscope!


The activity

Three main activities with related messages:

1. Building a phylogenetic tree – how one can infer evolutionary relationships

The objective is for people to understand that we can infer evolutionary relationships from similarity.

Set up: we give a backbone of a tree and a bunch of pictures that need to be put into the tree. To be able to do that, one needs to think what is closer to what looking at similarities. We could provide hints like “birds are closer to crocodiles than to lizards” or guide them to identify the characters that are key to unite different groups.

We thought of making two games, a simpler one for smaller kids and a more complex one for bigger ones/adults.

2. Looking into microscopic world – life is way more diverse that what you thought

Set up: microscope with different samples so people can see through it and be amazed with beautiful protists. We should also have a nice Tree of Life so we can show where each of the stuff we see goes in, more or less.

We need to find a microscope and get few funky samples.

3. Three posters emphasizing different ideas

a) A phylogeny is like a family genealogy tree: Analogy between ToL vs. family genealogy. Phylogeny is like large-scale family tree where we go back in time millions or years. What are the similarities and differences?

b) How do we build a tree? Simple poster explaining how we (scientists) actually infer the tree. Samples → DNA → sequencing → Inference programs → types of questions one can answer with a phylogeny?

c) The evolution of the ToL: from Haeckel to 2017! The idea is to explain when the idea of the ToL started and how it evolved until the present times.




Resources of interest