Keeling PJ, Burki F
Curr. Biol. 29 (16) R808-R817 [2019-08-19; online 2019-08-21]
Developing a detailed understanding of how all known forms of life are related to one another in the tree of life has been a major preoccupation of biology since the idea of tree-like evolution first took hold. Since most life is microbial, our intuitive use of morphological comparisons to infer relatedness only goes so far, and molecular sequence data, most recently from genomes and transcriptomes, has been the primary means to infer these relationships. For prokaryotes this presented new challenges, since the degree of horizontal gene transfer led some to question the tree-like depiction of evolution altogether. Most eukaryotes are also microbial, but in contrast to prokaryotic life, the application of large-scale molecular data to the tree of eukaryotes has largely been a constructive process, leading to a small number of very diverse lineages, or 'supergroups'. The tree is not completely resolved, and contentious problems remain, but many well-established supergroups now encompass much more diversity than the traditional kingdoms. Some of the most exciting recent developments come from the discovery of branches in the tree that we previously had no inkling even existed, many of which are of great ecological or evolutionary interest. These new branches highlight the need for more exploration, by high-throughput molecular surveys, but also more traditional means of observations and cultivation.