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Woese is me.

September 19, 2012

When I took my introductory zoology class (Zoo 102) at the University of Guelph, back in the day, the diversity of Earth was represented by five Kingdoms: Monera (bacteria), Protista, Fungi, Plantae and Animalia. Below these were the familiar Phylum, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. The five kingdom system was actually a relatively recent development firest proposed by Robert Whittaker in 1969 (Whittaker, R.H. 1969. New concepts of kingdoms or organisms. Evolutionary relations are better represented by new classifications than by the traditional two kingdoms. Science 163: 150–160 – a gently-modified version of the figure showing his 5-kingdom proposition is shown to the left) and indeed we seem to have progressed from a simple two kingdom system (plant and animal) to this five kingdom system from the time of Aristotle. These classifications reflected our knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and natural history of organisms.

Woese three domain phylogeny.

The advent of molecular techniques and particularly DNA sequencing revolutionized our ability to infer genealogical relationships among living species. In 1977 Carl Woese and George Fox published a paper that proposed a radically different tree of life with three major divisions that were to be called domains, and a division of the bacteria into the Archaebacteria (now Archaea) and Eubacteria (now often simply Bacteria): Woese, C.R. and G.E. Fox. 1977. Phylogenetic structure of the prokaryotic domain: the primary kingdoms. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 74: 5088–5090. Their tree was based on 16S rDNA sequence, and really was one of the pioneering efforts leading the deluge of molecular phylogenies that we see today.

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