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Microarray showing a snapshot of active genes in spleen cells in four different House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) with variable plumage. Photo: Camille Bonneaud

MCZ Initiatives

Encyclopedia of Life

The Encyclopedia of Life project is an unprecedented effort to make available information for all species of life on Earth, accessible through one website. The Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) will be a constantly evolving encyclopedia that lives on the Internet, with contributions from scientists and amateurs alike. EOL will create 'one-stop shopping' for authoritative information, offering the world at large a better understanding of the planet and all its inhabitants. Species pages will include authenticated information about species as well as access to a wealth of other materials, including peer-reviewed articles and access to DNA barcodes, all freely available. It is being assembled by a growing partnership of individual scientists, international organizations, technology leaders, and prestigious research institutions. But soon anyone will be able to provide information for consideration, too.

Initiated in May 2007, EOL's infrastructure now includes placeholder pages for 1 million species, of which over 100,000 have been populated with detailed information derived from comprehensive, authoritative compilations available for some taxonomic groups (e.g., FishBase, AmphibiaWeb). In addition, about two dozen highly developed multimedia pages are presented as examples of what to expect in time throughout the EOL.

Harvard University is one of six cornerstone institutions that initiated the EOL. The initial idea for the EOL was articulated by E.O. Wilson, Harvard University Professor Emeritus. Harvard's involvement continues through a wide variety of activities, including: Professor James Hanken, director of Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) is chair of the EOL Steering Committee; the Education and Outreach component of EOL is headed by Marie Studer housed at the MCZ; two of Harvard's libraries (Ernst Mayr Library of the MCZ and Harvard University Botany Libraries) are members of the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a foundational partner of the EOL. In addition, several Harvard research scientists have written species pages for the EOL and it is expected more will be involved in this capacity in the future.