In biology, phylogenetics (Greek: "phyle/phylon" (φυλή/φῦλον) "tribe, race" and "genetikos" (γενετικός) "relative to birth" from "genesis" (γένεσις ) "birth") is the study of evolutionary relatedness among various groups of organisms (e.g., species, populations). Taxonomy, the classification of organisms according to similarity, has been richly informed by phylogenetics but remains methodologically and logically distinct. [cite book
author=A.W.F. Edwards & L.L. Cavalli-Sforza
title=Reconstruction of evolutionary trees
editor=Systematics Assoc. Publ. No. 6: Phenetic and Phylogenetic Classification
] The fields overlap however in the science of phylogenetic systematics or cladism, where only phylogenetic trees are used to delimit taxa, each representing a group of lineage-connected individuals [cite web
last = Speer
first = Vrian
title = UCMP Glossary: Phylogenetics
publisher = UC Berkeley
year = 1998
url =
accessdate = 2008-03-22
] .

Evolution is regarded as a branching process, whereby populations are altered over time and may speciate into separate branches, hybridize together, or terminate by extinction. This may be visualized as a multidimensional character-space that a population moves through over time. The problem posed by phylogenetics is that genetic data are only available for the present, and fossil records (osteometric data) are sporadic and less reliable. Our knowledge of how evolution operates is used to reconstruct the full tree. [cite journal
author=L.L. Cavalli-Sforza and A.W.F. Edwards
title=Phylogenetic analysis: Models and estimation procedures

There are some terms that describe the nature of a grouping in such trees. For instance, all birds and reptiles are believed to have descended from a single common ancestor, so this taxonomic grouping (yellow in the diagram) is called monophyletic. "Modern reptile" (cyan in the diagram) is a grouping that contains a common ancestor, but does not contain all descendents of that ancestor (birds are excluded). This is an example of a paraphyletic group. A grouping such as warm-blooded animals would include only mammals and birds (red/orange in the diagram) and is called polyphyletic because the members of this grouping do not include the most recent common ancestor.

Cladistics is today the method of choice to infer phylogenetic trees. The most commonly used methods to infer phylogenies include parsimony, maximum likelihood, and MCMC-based Bayesian inference. Phenetics, popular in the mid-20th century but nowadays largely obsolete uses distance matrix-based methods to construct trees based on overall similarity which is often assumed to approximate phylogenetic relationships. All methods depend upon an implicit or explicit mathematical model describing the evolution of characters observed in the species included, and are usually used for molecular phylogeny where the characters are aligned nucleotide or amino acid sequences.

Ernst Haeckel's recapitulation theory

During the late 19th century, Ernst Haeckel's recapitulation theory, or biogenetic law, was widely accepted. This theory was often expressed as "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny", i.e. the development of an organism exactly mirrors the evolutionary development of the species. Haeckel's early version of this hypothesis [that the embryo mirrors "adult" evolutionary ancestors] has since been rejected, and the hypothesis amended as the embryo's development mirroring "embryos" of its evolutionary ancestors. Most modern biologists recognize numerous connections between ontogeny and phylogeny, explain them using evolutionary theory, or view them as supporting evidence for that theory. Donald Williamson suggested that larvae and embryos represented adults in other taxa that have been transferred by hybridization (the larval transfer theory) [Williamson, D. I. (2003) "The Origins of Larvae". Kluwer. Dordrecht. xviii + 261 pp.] [Williamson, D. I. (2006) Hybridization in the evolution of animal form and life-cycle. "Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society" 148: 585-602.]

Gene transfer

Organisms can generally inherit genes in two ways: from parent to offspring (vertical gene transfer), or by horizontal or lateral gene transfer, in which genes jump between unrelated organisms, a common phenomenon in prokaryotes.

Lateral gene transfer has complicated the determination of phylogenies of organisms since inconsistencies have been reported depending on the gene chosen.

Carl Woese came up with the three-domain theory of life (eubacteria, archaea and eukaryotes) based on his discovery that the genes encoding ribosomal RNA are ancient and distributed over all lineages of life with little or no lateral gene transfer. Therefore rRNA are commonly recommended as molecular clocks for reconstructing phylogenies.

This has been particularly useful for the phylogeny of microorganisms, to which the species concept does not apply and which are too morphologically simple to be classified based on phenotypic traits.

Taxon sampling and phylogenetic signal

Owing to the development of advanced sequencing techniques in molecular biology, it has become feasible to gather large amounts of data (DNA or amino acid sequences) to estimate phylogenies. For example, it is not rare to find studies with character matrices based on whole mitochondrial genomes. However, it has been proposed that it is more important to increase the number of taxa in the matrix than to increase the number of characters, because the more taxa, the more robust is the resulting phylogeny. This is partly due to the breaking up of long branches. It has been argued that this is an important reason to incorporate data from fossils into phylogenies where possible. Using simulations, Derrick Zwickl and Hilliscite journal |author=Zwickl DJ, Hillis DM |title=Increased taxon sampling greatly reduces phylogenetic error |journal=Systematic Biology |volume=51 |pages=588–598 |year=2002 | doi = 10.1080/10635150290102339 ] found that increasing taxon sampling in phylogenetic inference has a positive effect on the accuracy of phylogenetic analyses.

Another important factor that affects the accuracy of tree reconstruction is whether the data analyzed actually contain useful phylogenetic signal, a term that is used generally to denote whether related organisms tend to resemble each other with respect to their genetic material or phenotypic traits.cite journal |author=Blomberg SP, Garland T Jr, Ives AR |title=Testing for phylogenetic signal in comparative data: behavioral traits are more labile |journal=Evolution |volume=57 |pages=717–745 |year=2003]

See also


External links

* [ The Tree of Life]
* [ Interactive Tree of Life]
* [ PhyloCode]
* [ UCMP Exhibit Halls: Phylogeny Wing]
* [ Willi Hennig Society]
* [ in Spanish]
* [ PhyloPat, Phylogenetic Patterns]
* [ Phylogenetic inferring on the T-REX server]
* [ Mesquite]
* [ NCBI - Systematics and Molecular Phylogenetics]

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  • phylogenetics — phy·lo·ge·net·ics (fī lō jə nĕtʹĭks) n. (used with a sing. verb) The study of phylogeny. * * * …   Universalium

  • phylogenetics — noun The systematic study of organism relationships based on evolutionary similarities and differences. See Also: phylogenetic, phylogenesis, phylogeny …   Wiktionary

  • phylogenetics — n. study of the ways in which different species are related (through common genes or ancestors, etc.) …   English contemporary dictionary

  • phylogenetics — phy·lo·genetics …   English syllables

  • phylogenetics — /faɪloʊdʒəˈnɛtɪks/ (say fuylohjuh netiks) noun the systematic study of phylogeny …  

  • phylogenetics — |fīlō+ noun plural but singular or plural in construction : a branch of science that deals with phylogeny …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Molecular phylogenetics — (pronounced /məˈlɛkjʊlər faɪlɵdʒɪˈnɛtɪks/) is the analysis of hereditary molecular differences, mainly in DNA sequences, to gain information on an organism s evolutionary relationships. The result of a molecular phylogenetic analysis is… …   Wikipedia

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