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An optimization-based sampling scheme for phylogenetic trees.

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journal contribution
posted on 01.11.2011 by Navodit Misra, Guy E. Blelloch, Ramamoorthi Ravi, Russell Schwartz

Much modern work in phylogenetics depends on statistical sampling approaches to phylogeny construction to estimate probability distributions of possible trees for any given input data set. Our theoretical understanding of sampling approaches to phylogenetics remains far less developed than that for optimization approaches, however, particularly with regard to the number of sampling steps needed to produce accurate samples of tree partition functions. Despite the many advantages in principle of being able to sample trees from sophisticated probabilistic models, we have little theoretical basis for concluding that the prevailing sampling approaches do in fact yield accurate samples from those models within realistic numbers of steps. We propose a novel approach to phylogenetic sampling intended to be both efficient in practice and more amenable to theoretical analysis than the prevailing methods. The method depends on replacing the standard tree rearrangement moves with an alternative Markov model in which one solves a theoretically hard but practically tractable optimization problem on each step of sampling. The resulting method can be applied to a broad range of standard probability models, yielding practical algorithms for efficient sampling and rigorous proofs of accurate sampling for heated versions of some important special cases. We demonstrate the efficiency and versatility of the method by an analysis of uncertainty in tree inference over varying input sizes. In addition to providing a new practical method for phylogenetic sampling, the technique is likely to prove applicable to many similar problems involving sampling over combinatorial objects weighted by a likelihood model.


Publisher Statement

This is a copy of an article published in the Journal of Computational Biology © 2011 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.; Journal of Computational Biology is available online at: