Reconstructing (super)trees from data sets with missing distances: Not all is lost

George Kettleborough, Jo Dicks, Ian N. Roberts, Katharina T. Huber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The wealth of phylogenetic information accumulated over many decades of biological research, coupled with recent technological advances in molecular sequence generation, presents significant opportunities for researchers to investigate relationships across and within the kingdoms of life. However, to make best use of this data wealth, several problems must first be overcome. One key problem is finding effective strategies to deal with missing data. Here, we introduce Lasso, a novel heuristic approach for reconstructing rooted phylogenetic trees from distance matrices with missing values, for data sets where a molecular clock may be assumed. Contrary to other phylogenetic methods on partial data sets, Lasso possesses desirable properties such as its reconstructed trees being both unique and edge-weighted. These properties are achieved by Lasso restricting its leaf set to a large subset of all possible taxa, which in many practical situations is the entire taxa set. Furthermore, the Lasso approach is distance-based, rendering it very fast to run and suitable for data sets of all sizes, including large data sets such as those generated by modern Next Generation Sequencing technologies. To better understand the performance of Lasso, we assessed it by means of artificial and real biological data sets, showing its effectiveness in the presence of missing data. Furthermore, by formulating the supermatrix problem as a particular case of the missing data problem, we assessed Lasso's ability to reconstruct supertrees. We demonstrate that, although not specifically designed for such a purpose, Lasso performs better than or comparably with five leading supertree algorithms on a challenging biological data set. Finally, we make freely available a software implementation of Lasso so that researchers may, for the first time, perform both rooted tree and supertree reconstruction with branch lengths on their own partial data sets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1628-1642
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 The Author 2015.


  • dendrogram
  • lasso
  • molecular clock
  • partial distance
  • phylogenetic trees
  • rooted trees
  • supertree


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