Science News

The encyclopaedia of life

Sun, 13th May 2007

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This week scientists have announced plans for a wonderfully ambitious project – they are setting out to create a huge online Noah’s arc.  The web-based encyclopaedia will hold a huge amount of detailed information about all of the world’s 1.8 million known species of wild creature, and the most important thing about is that it will be free for everyone to use.Flagellata

The idea for cataloguing life on earth has been around for while, but it’s only recently that it’s becoming possible to do because of the great advances we’re seeing in web technology, so that now millions of pieces of information can be stored, accessed and searched online.  In fact the plans for the encyclopaedia of life, which will take 10 years to build, are first to send software programmes called “bots” out into the internet to gather information that’s already out there about all the known species of plants, animals and fungi in the world, and then teams of experts will check it and add in any missing information as well as photographs, videos, maps and even genetic sequences.

There really will be an incredible amount of information at our fingertips. For example, the natural history museum in London will be providing access to all one million of its books and a quarter of a million research papers.

And the real key to this sort of project is bringing together all this information in one place where it will be easy to get to and navigate around, rather than having to trawl around the internet.  And also, it’s becoming really important to know you can trust the information you find on the internet – so the encyclopaedia of life will have the seal of approval from experts.

And of course, the 1.8 million species that have been counted so far are no where near all the species that are actually out there, so this project will continue to grow and grow as more species are discovered… we can’t be sure but there could be hundreds of millions of species out there.

So from aardvark, to zebras, alligators to zebus we will all be able to find out anything we want to about all the wonderful creatures we share the planet with.

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