Phylogenetic trees can improve the power of comparative sequence analyses by placing raw sequence differences into their historical context — offering an understanding of how the sequences that we see today were created.
Neighbour joining provides an extremely fast estimate of the phylogeny that is accurate if relatively little evolution has occurred between sequences.
Parsimony can be effectively used if the sampling of sequences is dense (so, long branches are avoided), but this can be difficult to guarantee.
Maximum-likelihood techniques use models of sequence evolution to allow for unseen events and account for forces such as variation in rate at different sites in a sequence. These models can improve tree inference when the sequences are not closely related.
Bootstrapping provides a robust (though potentially time-consuming) way to assess confidence in phylogenetic estimates.
Bayesian techniques rely on the specification of a prior probability and the likelihood (from the data and models of evolution) to assign a posterior probability to hypotheses.
Bayesian techniques can account for uncertainty in parameter estimates by marginalizing over ('integrating out') parameters. Marginalization makes the use of complex models of sequence evolution more robust.
Markov chain Monte Carlo is an algorithm that allows for efficient estimation of the posterior probability, making Bayesian phylogenetics feasible for most data sets.
The construction of evolutionary trees is now a standard part of exploratory sequence analysis. Bayesian methods for estimating trees have recently been proposed as a faster method of incorporating the power of complex statistical models into the process. Researchers who rely on comparative analyses need to understand the theoretical and practical motivations that underlie these new techniques, and how they differ from previous methods. The ability of the new approaches to address previously intractable questions is making phylogenetic analysis an essential tool in an increasing number of areas of genetic research.
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This manuscript was greatly improved by comments from three anonymous reviewers. The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation/National Science Foundation awarded to P.O.L.
- PHYLOGENETIC TREE
A graph depicting the ancestor–descendant relationships between organisms or gene sequences. The sequences are the tips of the tree. Branches of the tree connect the tips to their (unobservable) ancestral sequences.
The biological discipline that is devoted to characterizing the diversity of life and organizing our knowledge about this diversity (primarily through estimating the phylogenetic relationships between organisms).
A branch of statistics that focuses on the posterior probability of hypotheses. The posterior probability is proportional to the product of the prior probability and the likelihood.
In systematics, parsimony refers to choosing between trees on the basis of which one requires the fewest possible mutations to explain the data.
- CONSENSUS METHOD
A summary of a set of trees in which branches that are not in most of the trees are collapsed to indicate uncertainty.
- AGREEMENT SUBTREES
A tree containing the largest subset of sequences for which the relationships among sequences are invariant across all the phylogenies included.
The probability of the data given the model and tree hypothesis. The likelihood measures how well the data agrees with the predictions made by the model and tree hypothesis.
A mutation between two pyrimidines (T↔C) or two purines (A↔G).
A mutation between a pyrimidine and a purine (A↔C, A↔T, G↔C or G↔T).
- PRIOR PROBABILITY
(The 'prior'). The probability of a hypothesis (or parameter value) without reference to the available data. Priors can be derived from first principles, or based on general knowledge or previous experiments.
- BAYES FACTORS
The ratio of the posterior odds to the prior odds for two hypotheses of interest. Bayes factors attempt to measure how strongly the data support or refute a hypothesis.
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Holder, M., Lewis, P. Phylogeny estimation: traditional and Bayesian approaches. Nat Rev Genet 4, 275–284 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrg1044
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