New Absolute Fast Converging Phylogeny Estimation Methods with Improved Scalability and Accuracy

Authors Qiuyi (Richard) Zhang, Satish Rao, Tandy Warnow

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Qiuyi (Richard) Zhang
  • Department of Mathematics, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley CA 94720
Satish Rao
  • Division of Computer Science, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley CA 94720
Tandy Warnow
  • Department of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, 61801, USA

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Qiuyi (Richard) Zhang, Satish Rao, and Tandy Warnow. New Absolute Fast Converging Phylogeny Estimation Methods with Improved Scalability and Accuracy. In 18th International Workshop on Algorithms in Bioinformatics (WABI 2018). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 113, pp. 8:1-8:12, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2018)


Absolute fast converging (AFC) phylogeny estimation methods are ones that have been proven to recover the true tree with high probability given sequences whose lengths are polynomial in the number of number of leaves in the tree (once the shortest and longest branch lengths are fixed). While there has been a large literature on AFC methods, the best in terms of empirical performance was DCM_NJ, published in SODA 2001. The main empirical advantage of DCM_NJ over other AFC methods is its use of neighbor joining (NJ) to construct trees on smaller taxon subsets, which are then combined into a tree on the full set of species using a supertree method; in contrast, the other AFC methods in essence depend on quartet trees that are computed independently of each other, which reduces accuracy compared to neighbor joining. However, DCM_NJ is unlikely to scale to large datasets due to its reliance on supertree methods, as no current supertree methods are able to scale to large datasets with high accuracy. In this study we present a new approach to large-scale phylogeny estimation that shares some of the features of DCM_NJ but bypasses the use of supertree methods. We prove that this new approach is AFC and uses polynomial time. Furthermore, we describe variations on this basic approach that can be used with leaf-disjoint constraint trees (computed using methods such as maximum likelihood) to produce other AFC methods that are likely to provide even better accuracy. Thus, we present a new generalizable technique for large-scale tree estimation that is designed to improve scalability for phylogeny estimation methods to ultra-large datasets, and that can be used in a variety of settings (including tree estimation from unaligned sequences, and species tree estimation from gene trees).

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Applied computing → Molecular evolution
  • phylogeny estimation
  • short quartets
  • sample complexity
  • absolute fast converging methods
  • neighbor joining
  • maximum likelihood


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