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In biology, phylogenetics (Greek: phylon = tribe, race and genetikos = relative to birth, from genesis = birth) is the study of evolutionary relatedness among various groups of organisms (e.g., species, populations). Also known as phylogenetic systematics, phylogenetics treats a species as a group of lineage-connected individuals over time. Phylogenetic taxonomy, which is an offshoot of, but not a logical consequence of, phylogenetic systematics, constitutes a means of classifying groups of organisms according to degree of evolutionary relatedness.

Phylogeny (or phylogenesis) is the origin and evolution of a set of organisms, usually a set of species. A major task of systematics is to determine the ancestral relationships among known species (both living and extinct). The most commonly used methods to infer phylogenies include parsimony, maximum likelihood, and MCMC-based Bayesian inference. Distance-based methods 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. The early version of this hypothesis has since been rejected as being oversimplified. However, most modern biologists recognize numerous connections between ontogeny and phylogeny, explain them using evolutionary theory, or view them as supporting evidence for that theory.

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

Due 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 Hillis[1] found that increasing taxon sampling in phylogenetic inference has a positive effect on the accuracy of phylogenetic analyses.

See also

References

  1. * Zwickl, DJ; Hillis DM (2002). "Increased taxon sampling greatly reduces phylogenetic error". Systematic Biology 51: 588-598.

External links

Basic topics in evolutionary biology
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Evidence of evolution
Processes of evolution: adaptation - macroevolution - microevolution - speciation
Population genetic mechanisms: selection - genetic drift - gene flow - mutation
Evo-devo concepts: phenotypic plasticity - canalisation - modularity
Modes of evolution: anagenesis - catagenesis - cladogenesis
History: History of evolutionary thought - Charles Darwin - The Origin of Species - modern evolutionary synthesis
Other subfields: ecological genetics - human evolution - molecular evolution - phylogenetics - systematics
List of evolutionary biology topics | Timeline of evolution
Topics in phylogenetics
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Relevant fields: phylogenetics | computational phylogenetics | molecular phylogeny | cladistics
Basic concepts: synapomorphy | phylogenetic tree | phylogenetic network | long branch attraction
Phylogeny inference methods: maximum parsimony | maximum likelihood | neighbour joining | UPGMA | Bayesian inference
Current topics: PhyloCode | DNA barcoding
List of evolutionary biology topics

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