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Theor Popul Biol. 1999 Apr;55(2):166-75.

Distance measures in terms of substitution processes.

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  • 1Zoologisches Institut, Universität München, Luisenstrasse 14, München, D-80333, Germany.


Phylogenetic reconstruction from DNA or amino acid sequences relies heavily on suitable distance measures. A number of new distance measures (asynchronous, LogDet, and paralinear distances) which possess the desired property of tree additivity under fairly general models of sequence evolution have been proposed recently, but they are not well understood from a mechanistic point of view. We review them here in a unifying framework, which is the substitution process in continuous time. The emerging interpretation will also clarify the relationship among these distance measures. We also tackle situations with site-to-site variation of substitution rates which is well known to cause non-additive distances and inconsistent branch lengths. For homogeneous, stationary, time-reversible models, this may be repaired provided that the distribution of rates is known. In contrast, we will show that, for non-stationary models, different tree topologies may produce identical joint distributions of letters in pairs of sequences, given the same distribution of rates. This precludes the existence of any tree-additive pairwise distance measure.

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