The day after posting my thoughts on "New Perspectives: Looking Down and Under" and Third Wave, I serendipitously came across a New York Times article called That's Life, which reviews a new project called "The Encyclopedia of Life" or EOL. This project is very similar in scope and importance to the study of the oceans, but also focuses more on life forms and the planet as a whole.
But what's particularly interesting about this project is how it's such a great example of a number of themes I've discussed here at Off Course - On Target. For one thing, it presents more evidence of how we are "Living in a World of Exponential Change".
The opening of this article picks up right from where my previous postings left off:
"In one sense we know much less about Earth than we do about Mars. The vast majority of life forms on our planet are still undiscovered, and their significance for our own species remains unknown. This gap in knowledge is a serious matter: we will never completely understand and preserve the living world around us at our present level of ignorance. We are flying blind into our environmental future
Since the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus inaugurated the modern system of classification two and a half centuries ago, biologists have found and given Latinized names to about 1.8 million species of plants, animals and microorganisms — an impressive number but probably 10 percent or less of the total. Rough estimates of the number of species that remain to be discovered range from 10 million to more than 100 million.
But a new project in biology, an ambitious effort to create a vast new electronic database of known species, should make it possible to discover the remaining 90 percent of species in far less than 250 years, perhaps only one-tenth that time, a single human generation."
Sound too audacious? Impossible? Keep in mind that a related feat, that of cataloging the human genome, initially perceived as too big to solve, happened in a mere 10 years.
There's lots more to say about this fascinating project and I'll talk more about it next time.