Discover, name, classify – even as far back as the time of Carl Linnaeus, these were the first steps any biologists took in their work. To this day, the classification of the living world (taxonomy) remains important, because new species are continually being discovered. Taxonomy contributes greatly to the preservation of biodiversity, and is an important foundation for the practical application of personalised medicine.
The molecular biology revolution, which is becoming increasingly dominated by high throughput sequencing methods in genomics and proteomics, has opened up new possibilities for taxonomy. Great numbers of hitherto unknown species are being discovered, and for the first time speciation can be examined at the level of complete genetic information and its expression. This gives rise to reasonable hope of reconciling the inevitably “artificial” system of classification, which generally reflects human interests, with the findings of evolutionary research.
However, this abundance of data also causes problems. Molecular taxonomy is not necessarily better than a classification based on phenotypic characteristics. An expert group of biologists and medical doctors has been put together to analyse the field of taxonomy, particularly with regard to the opportunities presented by “-omics” technologies (genomics, metagenomics, metabolomics and proteomics). The group’s aim is to inform decision-makers of the importance of taxonomy and to define key research areas. With this in mind, the experts will focus on two main areas: 1) the conceptual design of taxonomy; 2) the resulting recommendations for reorganising and expanding the structure of the research landscape in those fields relevant to taxonomy.
Both areas will be considered from the perspective of: i) botany and mycology, ii) microbiology and medical microbiology, iii) zoology. The first area will mainly be concerned with describing the status quo, identifying problems, and making innovative proposals for creating meaningful links between existing directions and concepts in taxonomy. The second area will formulate a recommendation for the necessary structural changes (identified in the first area) which will ensure that implementing the new conceptual direction is a realistic endeavour.
ML = Member of the Leopoldina
Scientific Officer, Department Science - Policy - Society
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