The advent of comparative genomics in the late 1990s led to the discovery of extensive lateral gene transfer in prokaryotes. The resulting debate over whether life as a whole is best represented as a tree or a network has since given way to a general consensus in which trees and networks co-exist rather than stand in opposition. Embracing this consensus allows us to move beyond the question of which is true or false. The future of the tree of life debate lies in asking what trees and networks can, and should, do for science.
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