The Sciences

Five Kingdoms

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerFeb 22, 2008 1:14 PM


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Claire d'Alberto of the University of Melbourne writes:

"I would like to share what my friends call my 'science nerd' tattoo with you! I am currently doing my PhD in Zoology and have been fascinated by the biological world for as long I can remember, so when I decided to get a tattoo it seemed logical that I look within my field for inspiration....It took 4.5 hours, and certainly didn't tickle, but I love that I have such a beautiful representation of evolution and the natural world with me all the time." [Tattooist's site:]

Carl: The tree of life has changed shape over the years. On another tattoo, you can see a nineteenth century version, its branches reaching upward through time. Today, scientists use DNA to draw the branches of thousands of species at a time. To make space for them all, the scientists must stretch the tree out into a wheel. Claire modeled her tree after a 3,000-species tree created by David Hillis at the University of Texas. She did not have all 3,000 species tattooed on her, obviously, but this simplified version captures the overall shape of the tree. The pictures around the tree represent the five kingdoms--Monera (bacteria), Protista (amoebae and other single-celled organisms), Plantae (plants), Fungi (illustrated here by yeast and the penicillin mold), and animals (a comb jelly, a mollusc, a starfish, and a seadragon fish). Of course, even 3,000 species is only a tiny fraction of the full diversity of life--1.8 million known species, and perhaps 10 or 20 million more to be discovered. If the current trends of discovery hold up, most of that diversity will be made up of bacteria. So future tattoos will need more microbes, and fewer seadragons. Click here to go to the full Science Tattoo Emporium.

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