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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

GIGA: a simple, efficient algorithm for gene tree inference in the genomic age

Paul D Thomas

Author Affiliations

Evolutionary Systems Biology Group, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA USA

Division of Bioinformatics, Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA USA

BMC Bioinformatics 2010, 11:312  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-11-312

Published: 9 June 2010

Abstract

Background

Phylogenetic relationships between genes are not only of theoretical interest: they enable us to learn about human genes through the experimental work on their relatives in numerous model organisms from bacteria to fruit flies and mice. Yet the most commonly used computational algorithms for reconstructing gene trees can be inaccurate for numerous reasons, both algorithmic and biological. Additional information beyond gene sequence data has been shown to improve the accuracy of reconstructions, though at great computational cost.

Results

We describe a simple, fast algorithm for inferring gene phylogenies, which makes use of information that was not available prior to the genomic age: namely, a reliable species tree spanning much of the tree of life, and knowledge of the complete complement of genes in a species' genome. The algorithm, called GIGA, constructs trees agglomeratively from a distance matrix representation of sequences, using simple rules to incorporate this genomic age information. GIGA makes use of a novel conceptualization of gene trees as being composed of orthologous subtrees (containing only speciation events), which are joined by other evolutionary events such as gene duplication or horizontal gene transfer. An important innovation in GIGA is that, at every step in the agglomeration process, the tree is interpreted/reinterpreted in terms of the evolutionary events that created it. Remarkably, GIGA performs well even when using a very simple distance metric (pairwise sequence differences) and no distance averaging over clades during the tree construction process.

Conclusions

GIGA is efficient, allowing phylogenetic reconstruction of very large gene families and determination of orthologs on a large scale. It is exceptionally robust to adding more gene sequences, opening up the possibility of creating stable identifiers for referring to not only extant genes, but also their common ancestors. We compared trees produced by GIGA to those in the TreeFam database, and they were very similar in general, with most differences likely due to poor alignment quality. However, some remaining differences are algorithmic, and can be explained by the fact that GIGA tends to put a larger emphasis on minimizing gene duplication and deletion events.