The INDIVIDUALIST

A Wiki about biochemical individuality

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In biology, phylogenetics (Greek: phylon = tribe, race and genetikos = relative to birth, from genesis = birth) is the study of evolutionary relatedness among various groups of organisms (e.g., species, populations). Also known as phylogenetic systematics, phylogenetics treats a species as a group of lineage-connected individuals over time. Phylogenetic taxonomy, which is an offshoot of, but not a logical consequence of, phylogenetic systematics, constitutes a means of classifying groups of organisms according to degree of evolutionary relatedness.

Phylogeny (or phylogenesis) is the origin and evolution of a set of organisms, usually a set of species. A major task of systematics is to determine the ancestral relationships among known species (both living and extinct). The most commonly used methods to infer phylogenies include cladistics, phenetics, maximum likelihood, and MCMC-based Bayesian inference. All methods depend upon an implicit or explicit mathematical model describing the evolution of characters observed in the species included, and are usually used for molecular phylogeny where the characters are aligned nucleotide or amino acid sequences.

Horizontal gene transfer

New developments in the understanding of horizontal gene transfer have complicated the matter a bit.

Sequence comparisons suggest recent horizontal transfer of many genes among diverse species including across the boundaries of phylogenetic "domains". Thus determining the phylogenetic history of a species can not be done conclusively by determining evolutionary trees for single genes.

Taxon sampling

Due to the development of advanced sequencing techniques in molecular biology, it has become feasible to gather large amounts of data (DNA or amino acid sequences) to estimate phylogenies. For example, it is not rare to find studies with character matrices based on whole mitochondrial genomes. However, it has been proposed that it is more important to increase the number of taxa in the matrix than to increase the number of characters, because the more taxa, the more robust is the resulting phylogeny. This is partly due to the breaking up of long branches. It has been argued that this is an important reason to incorporate data from fossils into phylogenies where possible.

Using simulations, Zwickl and Hillis (2002) found that increasing taxon sampling in phylogenetic inference has a positive effect on the accuracy of phylogenetic analyses.

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