Learn About the Tree of Life!
Elephant Shrews
A Tree of Life Adventure Game!
Morphing Arachnids
Further Resources
Phylogenetic Predictions


Phylogenetic Predictions

Phylogenetic trees predict the characteristics of species that have not yet been carefully studied. This can guide the search for useful natural products, including “bioprospecting” for new drugs. For example, the drug “taxol,” which is used to treat breast cancer, was first isolated from the Pacific yew plant. A focus on related plants turned up a similar chemical in a more widespread species, which greatly enabled the production of the drug.



Treating Snake Bites

In Australia, which has more poisonous snakes than any other continent, phylogenetic analysis is used to help identify antivenins. Venin properties correlate strongly with evolutionary relationships. Therefore, for example, the anitvenin for the red-bellied black snake can also be used for the closely related (although very different looking) king brown snake.


Red-bellied black snake and King brown snake



Snake antivenin tree




The “Poison” in Poison IvyPoison Ivy

Some people who are sensitive to poison ivy discover that they have a similar reaction to the skin of mango fruits. Phylogeny provides the answer to this puzzling phenomenon. Mangos and poison ivy turn out to be related.


A mango


They both belong to the Cashew family, the Anacardiaceae. Many members of this branch of the Tree of Life produce urushiol, the oil that is the “poison” in poison ivy.


And what about the cashew itself? Urushiol is found in the shell of completely raw cashew nuts, as well as the leaves. However, virtually all ‘raw’ nuts that are sold have been steamed to release the resin and make them safe to eat.










Another plant that belongs to the Anacardiaceae is the Japanese lacquer tree, which is used to make exquisite traditional lacquerware. The tree sap also contains urushiol and there have been cases of similar allergic reactions, particularly among laquerware craftsmen.



Lacquerware box




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