Scientists compile massive biology web site

May 10, 2007

By hammersmith

[Source: eSchool News staff and wire service reports] — In a whale-sized project, the world’s scientists plan to compile everything they know about all of Earth’s 1.8 million known species and put it all on one web site, open to the public free of charge. The effort, called the Encyclopedia of Life, will include species descriptions, pictures, maps, videos, sound, sightings by amateurs, and links to entire genomes and scientific journal papers. Its first pages of information were shown May 9 in Washington, D.C., where the massive effort was announced by some of the world’s leading scientific institutions and universities. The project will take about 10 years to complete. “It’s an interactive zoo,” said James Edwards, who will be the encyclopedia’s executive director. Edwards currently helps run a global biodiversity information system.

If the new encyclopedia progresses as planned, it should fill about 300 million pages, which, if lined up end-to-end, would be more than 52,000 miles long, able to stretch twice around the world at the equator. The MacArthur and Sloan foundations have given a total of $12.5 million to pay for the first two-and-a-half years of the massive effort, but it will be free and accessible to everyone–students, teachers, scholars, and others alike.

The pages can be adjusted so they provide useful information for both a schoolchild and a research biologist, with an emphasis on encouraging “citizen-scientists” to add their sightings. While amateurs can contribute in clearly marked side pages, the key detail and science parts of the encyclopedia will be compiled and reviewed by experts. “It could be a very big leap in the way we do science,” said Cristian Samper, acting secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, one of seven museums, universities, and labs to launch the encyclopedia. “This is a project that is so big, not even the Smithsonian could do it by itself. It is a global effort.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]