Digital print on archival paper, 2015

48 x 33 cm


This image was created on invitation by Natalie Gontier, for a special issues on Evolutionary Patterns in the Journal Evolutionary Biology, December 2016.


All drawings for the cover have been carefully rendered with pencil. I have drawn the elements separately, scanned them in high-resolution and digitally edited their size, colour and composition in Photoshop. The final image exists only as a digital construct, even though it originated from hand-drawn elements.


In the centre are variant renderings of the phylogenetic tree. I depicted a simplified version of the phylogenetic ring as proposed by David Hillis, Derrick Zwickl and Robin Gutell[1]. I also searched for a three-dimensional model, in which the branches fan out at different heights according to their depth in time, thus forming a cone. This construction was modeled by Tal Dagan[2]. Another attractive diagram of evolution was proposed by W. Ford Doolittle and depicts a reticulate network that expresses the dynamics of lateral gene transfer[3]. I decided to use all of these models nested into each other, revolving around a vertical axis of DNA, because it is a key element in most theories of evolution. The reticulate model, placed lowest, doesn’t have a single point of origin, because knowledge on the origin of life is still nebulous.


Fanning from this cone, like an evolutionary floral arrangement, are many ideas. On the left are soap bubbles that can create membranes due to their phospholipid structure. Vesicles could at some stage have enveloped RNA, creating the first proto-cell. The interesting question remains how genetic material became enveloped and what came first: membranes or RNA? From there on, single-celled organisms and protozoa evolved and through endosymbiosis mitochondria were formed. This stage occurred before organisms absorbed photosynthesizing bacteria into plastids, which are depicted in the upper right corner of the image.


Also at the right, a playful idea of amoebas morphing into a cultural pattern, such as the paisley. In the paisley you find a symbol of the tree of life. This refers to the extension of our biological evolution into cultural evolution and the feedback loops between those systems. The noösphere, our thinking capacity, is visualized on the left, where the phylogenetic web of life morphs into neurons, electronic computing pathways and miRNA’s. The evolution of data technologies extends the noösphere into cyberspace and raises interesting parallels between digital information and genetic code. The field of generative data visualizations is exploding. The “Facebook Tree” in the lower left was designed by Onformative. Its structure is generated through certain types of social network interactions[4]. Finally, from the center of the bouquet arises meiosis, cell division for gametes and sexual reproduction that is the primary mode of vertical gene transfer of our type of species.


The cover image is available as an original digital print. Size is 43 x 33 cms, printed on archival BFK Rives paper, signed and numbered from an edition of 25.

[1] (accessed June 10, 2015)

[2] T Dagan, Y Artzy-Randrup, W Martin. “Modular networks and cumulative impact of lateral transfer in prokaryote genome evolution.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (29), 2008,10039-10044

[3] Ford Doolittle, W. “Uprooting the Tree of Life.” Scientific American, February 2000. 90-95

[4] (accessed June19, 2015)