Phylogenetic Supertree Methods: tools for reconstructing the Tree of Life

Mathematical Biology and Ecology Seminar
Monday, August 16, 2010 - 11:00
1 hour (actually 50 minutes)
Skiles 271
UT Austin
Estimating the Tree of Life, an evolutionary tree describing how all life evolved from a common ancestor, is one of the major scientific objectives facing modern biologists. This estimation problem is extremely computationally intensive, given that the most accurate methods (e.g., maximum likelihood heuristics) are based upon attempts to solve NP-hard optimization problems.  Most computational biologists assume that the only feasible strategy will involve a divide-and-conquer approach where the large taxon set is divided into subsets, trees are estimated on these subsets, and a supertree method is applied to assemble a tree on the entire set of taxa from the smaller "source" trees. I will present supertree methods in a mathematical context, focusing on some theoretical properties of MRP (Matrix Representation with Parsimony), the most popular supertree method, and SuperFine, a new supertree method that outperforms MRP.