“There’s a pretty big gap between the sum of what scientists know about how living things are related, and what’s actually available digitally,” lead scientist Karen Cranston, a computational phylogeneticist at Duke University, said in an announcement of the project.

Only one out of six studies published in about 100 journals in the decade leading up to 2012 have digital data that others can use, the researchers reported. Most of the 7,500 phylogenetic – or evolutionary branching – trees are in PDF or image formats that cannot be readily downloaded and merged with other data.

For this reason, the first version of the tree of life is based only on 484 trees that map the genetic evolution of species, from worm to beetle to human to giraffe.