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Mol Biol Evol. 2005 May;22(5):1337-44. Epub 2005 Mar 2.

More genes or more taxa? The relative contribution of gene number and taxon number to phylogenetic accuracy.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.


The relative contribution of taxon number and gene number to accuracy in phylogenetic inference is a major issue in phylogenetics and of central importance to the choice of experimental strategies for the successful reconstruction of a broad sketch of the tree of life. Maximization of the number of taxa sampled is the strategy favored by most phylogeneticists, although its necessity remains the subject of debate. Vast increases in gene number are now possible due to advances in genomics, but large numbers of genes will be available for only modest numbers of taxa, raising the question of whether such genome-scale phylogenies will be robust to the addition of taxa. To examine the relative benefit of increasing taxon number or gene number to phylogenetic accuracy, we have developed an assay that utilizes the symmetric difference tree distance as a measure of phylogenetic accuracy. We have applied this assay to a genome-scale data matrix containing 106 genes from 14 yeast species. Our results show that increasing taxon number correlates with a slight decrease in phylogenetic accuracy. In contrast, increasing gene number has a significant positive effect on phylogenetic accuracy. Analyses of an additional taxon-rich data matrix from the same yeast clade show that taxon number does not have a significant effect on phylogenetic accuracy. The positive effect of gene number and the lack of effect of taxon number on phylogenetic accuracy are also corroborated by analyses of two data matrices from mammals and angiosperm plants, respectively. We conclude that, for typical data sets, the number of genes utilized may be a more important determinant of phylogenetic accuracy than taxon number.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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