Peer Bork talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Fast Breaking Paper in the field of Computer
Science. The author has also sent along images of their
Article Title: Interactive Tree Of Life (iTOL): an
online tool for phylogenetic tree display and
Year: JAN 1 2007
* European Mol Biol Lab, Meyerhofstr 1, D-69117 Heidelberg,
* European Mol Biol Lab, D-69117 Heidelberg, Germany.
Why do you think your paper is highly
iTOL (for interactive tree of life) is an online resource and tool that
allows generation and modification of phylogenetic trees which can then be
visualized in many ways. iTOL offers features such as the integration of
external data or the visualization of gene transfers that appear to be very
welcome by the biological research community.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
iTOL provides a reference tree of life and tries to incorporate many
approaches for the display, analysis, and digest of phylogenetic trees,
among them also novel ones that should simplify analysis and presentation
of customer-derived trees.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper in
iTOL represents a conceptually novel tool that allows researchers to
explore their own phylogenetic trees free of charge on a protected web-site
compared to downloadable software and thus avoids compatibility problems.
The variety of data integration and visualization features allows the
presentation of complex biological data in an organized way. Examples such
as taxon-dependent protein domain organizations or simply genome sizes are
available on the site.
How did you become involved in this research, and were
there any problems along the way?
We generated, for our own purposes, a tree of life based on concatenated
marker genes (Ciccarelli FD, et al., "Toward automatic
reconstruction of a highly resolved tree of life," Science 311
: 1283-87, March 3, 2006) that covered all three domains of life and
offered branch length information. We wanted to integrate it with external
data, such as those from metagenomics projects (von Mering C. et
al.,"Quantitative phylogenetic assessment of microbial communities in
diverse environments," Science 315 : 1126-30, February 23,
2007.), but there was no suitable tool around. We thus developed iTOL and
added many features that appeared generally useful. After heavy internal
use we decided to open it to the scientific community through the Internet.
Where do you see your research leading in the
We will certainly continue to add features and improve both the resource
and the tool, as we believe that phylogenetic context is very important in
many research projects.
Do you foresee any social or political implications for
We do bioinformatics research, so unless the iTOL concept is taken to
measure and relate data in these areas, I would not expect an impact there.
Dr. Peer Bork
Senior Group Leader
Head of Unit
Structural and Computational Biology
European Molecular Biology Lab (EMBL)
Heidelberg, Germany Web
Peer Bork answers a few questions about the new hot
paper from the field of Biology & Biochemistry for September 2007.
The author also sent along images of their work.
Keywords: interactive tree of life (itol), phylogenetic tree display,
phylogenetic trees, gene transfers, biological research community,
customer-derived trees, visualization features, taxon-dependent protein
domain organizations, genome sizes, concatenated marker genes, metagenomics
projects, bioinformatics research.