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Mol Biol Evol. 2018 Jul 1;35(7):1783-1797. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msy055.

Alignment Modulates Ancestral Sequence Reconstruction Accuracy.

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European Molecular Biology Laboratory, European Bioinformatics Institute, Wellcome Genome Campus, Hinxton, United Kingdom.
Department of Biochemistry and Immunology, Federal University of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Department of Genetics and Molecular Biology, Laboratory of Human and Medical Genetics, Federal University of Pará, Belém, Pará, Brazil.
Research IT Services, University College London, London, United Kingdom.


Accurate reconstruction of ancestral states is a critical evolutionary analysis when studying ancient proteins and comparing biochemical properties between parental or extinct species and their extant relatives. It relies on multiple sequence alignment (MSA) which may introduce biases, and it remains unknown how MSA methodological approaches impact ancestral sequence reconstruction (ASR). Here, we investigate how MSA methodology modulates ASR using a simulation study of various evolutionary scenarios. We evaluate the accuracy of ancestral protein sequence reconstruction for simulated data and compare reconstruction outcomes using different alignment methods. Our results reveal biases introduced not only by aligner algorithms and assumptions, but also tree topology and the rate of insertions and deletions. Under many conditions we find no substantial differences between the MSAs. However, increasing the difficulty for the aligners can significantly impact ASR. The MAFFT consistency aligners and PRANK variants exhibit the best performance, whereas FSA displays limited performance. We also discover a bias towards reconstructed sequences longer than the true ancestors, deriving from a preference for inferring insertions, in almost all MSA methodological approaches. In addition, we find measures of MSA quality generally correlate highly with reconstruction accuracy. Thus, we show MSA methodological differences can affect the quality of reconstructions and propose MSA methods should be selected with care to accurately determine ancestral states with confidence.

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