Scientists from several U.S. and Chinese universities say new findings about microbes and their interaction with other species show that Darwin's theory of evolution needs an update.
Their contention is based on discoveries that all plants and animals, including humans, evolved in interaction with a huge number of microscopic species — bacteria, viruses and fungi — not only in harmful but also in beneficial ways.
In a paper published by the scientific journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, scientists from the University of Colorado, Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, and several other universities say Darwin's tree of life fails to recognize that many forms of life are linked physically and evolved together in so-called symbiomes.
The authors propose creating a working group that would use advanced computational methods to create a multidimensional evolutionary tree describing our complex interaction with microbes.
For centuries, mythologies around the world used the so-called tree of life as a metaphor for diversity stemming from a single source.
In 1859, Charles Darwin used the same concept to explain his theory of evolution, depicting it as a two-dimensional tree with individual species evolving independently of other branches.
Scientists say an updated view on symbiomes could have a profound effect not only on biology but also on many areas of science, including technology and even on society.