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Open Access Methodology article

Bootstrap-based Support of HGT Inferred by Maximum Parsimony

Hyun Jung Park, Guohua Jin and Luay Nakhleh*

Author Affiliations

Department of Computer Science, Rice University, 6100 Main Street, MS 132, Houston, Texas 77005, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:131  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-131

Published: 5 May 2010

Abstract

Background

Maximum parsimony is one of the most commonly used criteria for reconstructing phylogenetic trees. Recently, Nakhleh and co-workers extended this criterion to enable reconstruction of phylogenetic networks, and demonstrated its application to detecting reticulate evolutionary relationships. However, one of the major problems with this extension has been that it favors more complex evolutionary relationships over simpler ones, thus having the potential for overestimating the amount of reticulation in the data. An ad hoc solution to this problem that has been used entails inspecting the improvement in the parsimony length as more reticulation events are added to the model, and stopping when the improvement is below a certain threshold.

Results

In this paper, we address this problem in a more systematic way, by proposing a nonparametric bootstrap-based measure of support of inferred reticulation events, and using it to determine the number of those events, as well as their placements. A number of samples is generated from the given sequence alignment, and reticulation events are inferred based on each sample. Finally, the support of each reticulation event is quantified based on the inferences made over all samples.

Conclusions

We have implemented our method in the NEPAL software tool (available publicly at http://bioinfo.cs.rice.edu/ webcite), and studied its performance on both biological and simulated data sets. While our studies show very promising results, they also highlight issues that are inherently challenging when applying the maximum parsimony criterion to detect reticulate evolution.