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. 1991 Mar 23;1761:46-50.

Kingdoms in Turmoil

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  • PMID: 11538109

Kingdoms in Turmoil

L Margulis et al. New Sci. .


How should the world's living organisms be classified? Into how many kingdoms should they be grouped? Scientists have been grappling with these questions since the time of Aristotle, drawing on a broad base of biological characteristics for clues. The fossil record, visible traits of living organisms and, more recently, results from cell biology have all shaped theories of biological classification. But last year a new and controversial concept emerged: a classification of life based solely on molecular traits. The focal point of the controversy is a tree of life, or "phylogeny", devised by Carl Woese of the University of Illinois, Otto Kandler of the University of Munich and Mark Wheelis of the University of California. The tree is unusual because, unlike all previous schemes, it is constructed solely from biochemical data such as DNA sequences rather than a range of different organism characteristics. But that is not all. The scheme also challenges the idea that life on Earth is best divided into five kingdoms, with the main split being between bacteria and all other organisms. Woese and his colleagues create three main groupings by dividing the bacteria in two and unifying all other organisms.

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