Both the concept of a Darwinian tree of life (TOL) and the possibility of its accurate reconstruction have been much criticized. Criticisms mostly revolve around the extensive occurrence of lateral gene transfer (LGT), instances of uptake of complete organisms to become organelles (with the associated subsequent gene transfer to the nucleus), as well as the implications of more subtle aspects of the biological species concept. Here we argue that none of these criticisms are sufficient to abandon the valuable TOL concept and the biological realities it captures. Especially important is the need to conceptually distinguish between organismal trees and gene trees, which necessitates incorporating insights of widely occurring LGT into modern evolutionary theory. We demonstrate that all criticisms, while based on important new findings, do not invalidate the TOL. After considering the implications of these new insights, we find that the contours of evolution are best represented by a TOL.

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Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica, Amsterdam (CWI), The Netherlands

van der Gulik, P., Hoff, W., & Speijer, D. (2024). The contours of evolution: In defence of Darwin's tree of life paradigm. BioEssays. doi:10.1002/bies.202400012