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The Tree of Life

About the Tree of Life

We often think of a balanced diet as one that reflects the nutritional needs of our bodies. Today we invite you to think of a new way to balance your diet – biodiversity.

Each ingredient in your meal is connected to a living organism – plants, animals, fungi, bacteria – each of which has an evolutionary story of its own. The Tree of Life helps us visualize this history.


What is the Tree of Life?

The Tree of Life is like a family tree; scientists use the tree to understand relatedness and to trace the history of species living today back through time. Each place where branches come together represents a common ancestor shared by the organisms that branch off from that point in the tree.


Instead of thinking about your food as randomly placed on your plate, the tree of life helps us see relationships among these ingredients. Notice in the tree above that all of the animals cluster closer together with each other than do the plants or the fungi. This tree also suggests that fungi and animals are more closely related to each other than plants – check out Dishing Out Diversity for more information!


A Tree for Tasting the Tree of Life

Below is a Tree of Life constructed specifically for this event. Its branches represent all 149 ingredients used to prepare the meals for the menu today. The relationships among its branches are based on published studies that used DNA sequence data to determine how these major lineages of life are related to one another. A branch for humans has been added to help visualize how we are related to the ingredients on our plate!


How can I ‘see’ the diversity of food on my plate?

Throughout Eickoff you will encounter the same tree pictured above, but with particular branches colored to match the ingredients of that meal (see below). Look for these tree icons on the information boards by each meal for a ’tree-view’ of your meal.

A Guide To Exploring Today’s Diverse Meals

To truly appreciate how the diversity on your plate changes from meal to meal, it is best to compare the trees! Below is one example where all three meals from Sampling the Flavors of Phylo-fusion are placed side by side so you can see how the pattern of ingredients (marked by the blue branches) across the tree changes based on what meal you choose to eat.

For an example – look below to compare the trees associated with our three meals of Sampling the Flavors of Phylo-fusion.

Better Together

Ceva Pizza

Delectable Digestible Dairy

Roscoe’s Tacos

For the Love of Bees

Bliss Bakery

To compare all meals of the event by tree click here.