Indexed on: 26 Mar '11Published on: 26 Mar '11Published in: Systematic biology
We present an evolutionary placement algorithm (EPA) and a Web server for the rapid assignment of sequence fragments (short reads) to edges of a given phylogenetic tree under the maximum-likelihood model. The accuracy of the algorithm is evaluated on several real-world data sets and compared with placement by pair-wise sequence comparison, using edit distances and BLAST. We introduce a slow and accurate as well as a fast and less accurate placement algorithm. For the slow algorithm, we develop additional heuristic techniques that yield almost the same run times as the fast version with only a small loss of accuracy. When those additional heuristics are employed, the run time of the more accurate algorithm is comparable with that of a simple BLAST search for data sets with a high number of short query sequences. Moreover, the accuracy of the EPA is significantly higher, in particular when the sample of taxa in the reference topology is sparse or inadequate. Our algorithm, which has been integrated into RAxML, therefore provides an equally fast but more accurate alternative to BLAST for tree-based inference of the evolutionary origin and composition of short sequence reads. We are also actively developing a Web server that offers a freely available service for computing read placements on trees using the EPA.