Geometric perspectives on phylogenetics

Algebra Seminar
Monday, April 8, 2013 - 17:00
1 hour (actually 50 minutes)
Skiles 006
North Carolina State University
I will discuss two problems in phylogenetics where a geometric perspective provides substantial insight.  The first is the identifiability problem for phylogenetic mixture models, where the main problem is to determine which circumstances make it possible to recover the model parameters (e.g. the tree) from data.  Here tools from algebraic geometry prove useful for deriving the current best results on the identifiability of these models. The second problem concerns the performance of distance-based phylogenetic algorithms, which take approximations to distances between species and attempt to reconstruct a tree.  A classical result of Atteson gives guarantees on the reconstruction, if the data is not too far from a tree metric, all of whose edge lengths are bounded away from zero.  But what happens when the true tree metric is very near a polytomy?  Polyhedral geometry provides tools for addressing this question with some surprising answers.