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"Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, waterbugs, tadpoles, frogs & turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, hickory nuts, trees to climb, animals to pet, hayfields, pine cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets – and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education." -Luther Burbank 1849 - 1926
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Encyclopedia of Life Assembles an Online Compendiumn of Earth's Species & Processes

The earth is home of millions of species and thousands of processes that can help us understand our home better. A relatively new project, the Encyclopedia of Life has been launched to help collect information about this wide diversity of earthly wisdom and make it available in an online database.

Over time the Encyclopedia of Life database will log changes in species and other data such as changes in the density of forests and when plants first flower. By making it easy to compare and contrast information about life on Earth, the compendium has the potential to provide new insights into many of life‟s secrets.

The first 30,000 pages of a massive online Encyclopedia of Life were unveiled in February 2009 at the prestigious Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Conference in Monterey, California. Intended as a tool for scientists and policymakers and a fascinating resource for anyone interested in the living world, the EOL is being developed by a unique collaboration between scientists and the general public.

The backers of the idea hope that the vast, virtual book of life will eventually be comparable to the global system used to watch for and record earthquakes.

"We are creating a virtual observatory for world biodiversity, where environmental observations, specimen data, experimental results, and sophisticated modelling can be done across all levels of biodiversity - from genes to ecosystems," said James Edwards, executive director of the Encyclopedia of Life, in a statement.

The Encyclopedia of Life, based at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, and the London's Natural History Museum are the key backers of the project.

  • The Encyclopedia will log long-term changes brought about by climate change.

  • It could give early warnings about invasive species and insights into the timing, altitude and route of bird migrations in ways that could reduce bird strike numbers on aircraft.

  • It could also serve as a hi-tech field guide for anyone who wanted to identify animals, insects, trees or flowers they found while on holiday or near their home.
All aspects of the database are expected to be available in 10 years. Some parts of the system, such as images of species, maps of the seas and gene sequences to help with DNA barcoding, are already in use.

Feedback on the first 30,000 pages will shape the ultimate design and functionality of all 1.8 million pages, scheduled for completion by 2017. It will also help inform priorities for content development.

The rapid progress to date was congratulated by Harvard‟s E.O. Wilson, University Professor Emeritus, who articulated the need for a dynamic modern portrait of biodiversity in a widely read essay in 2003. His letter in 2005 to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation resulted in a $10 million seed grant to start the EOL, soon complemented by a further $2.5 million from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “The launch of the Encyclopedia of Life will have a profound and creative effect in science,” says Prof. Wilson. “It aims not only to summarize all that we know of Earth‟s life forms, but also to accelerate the discovery of the vast array that remain unknown. This great effort promises to lay out new directions for research in every branch of biology.”