KEVIN DeQUEIROZ: ORGANIZING ORGANISMS
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It is drizzling and unusually cold for July in Paris. Still, Kevin de Queiroz, his wife, Molly Morris, and half a dozen old friends are huddled at sidewalk caf¿ tables on the rue Linn¿, flush with enthusiasm. In honor of the locale, de Queiroz raises his glass to Carl von Linn¿, the 18th-century Swedish botanist who also went by the name Linnaeus. "He's not the problem," sighs de Queiroz, careful, even among allies, to distinguish between the historical figure and today's rules for naming organisms, which are still largely based on Linnaeus's method. For 20 years, de Queiroz and a core group of like-minded colleagues have argued that Linnean-style classification was fine for the static, divinely created universe of the 18th century but that it just doesn't work in an evolving world. They have spent the past week in Paris, along with some 60 fellow systematic biologists from 11 countries, polishing an alternative.
Their proposed "PhyloCode" is a system for naming organisms based on evolutionary relationships (phylogeny), rather than grouping them by shared characteristics. Instead of arranging such groups in a descending hierarchy of kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families and so forth, PhyloCode proponents want to denote groupings descended from a common ancestor. These nested "clades" more accurately depict the reality of the branching tree of life, PhyloCoders contend. The new nomenclature would also provide a language "for scientists to talk about what we really want to talk about," says Jacques Gauthier, who originated the idea with de Queiroz.
This article was originally published with the title What's in a Name?.