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Journal Article

Efficient inference, potential, and limitations of site-specific substitution models


Sagulenko,  P
Research Group Evolutionary Dynamics and Biophysics, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Puller, V., Sagulenko, P., & Neher, R. (2020). Efficient inference, potential, and limitations of site-specific substitution models. Virus Evolution, 6(2): veaa066. doi:10.1093/ve/veaa066.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-520B-E
Natural selection imposes a complex filter on which variants persist in a population resulting in evolutionary patterns that vary greatly along the genome. Some sites evolve close to neutrally, while others are highly conserved, allow only specific states, or only change in concert with other sites. On one hand, such constraints on sequence evolution can be to infer biological function, one the other hand they need to be accounted for in phylogenetic reconstruction. Phylogenetic models often account for this complexity by partitioning sites into a small number of discrete classes with different rates and/or state preferences. Appropriate model complexity is typically determined by model selection procedures. Here, we present an efficient algorithm to estimate more complex models that allow for different preferences at every site and explore the accuracy at which such models can be estimated from simulated data. Our iterative approximate maximum likelihood scheme uses information in the data efficiently and accurately estimates site-specific preferences from large data sets with moderately diverged sequences and known topology. However, the joint estimation of site-specific rates, and site-specific preferences, and phylogenetic branch length can suffer from identifiability problems, while ignoring variation in preferences across sites results in branch length underestimates. Site-specific preferences estimated from large HIV pol alignments show qualitative concordance with intra-host estimates of fitness costs. Analysis of these substitution models suggests near saturation of divergence after a few hundred years. Such saturation can explain the inability to infer deep divergence times of HIV and SIVs using molecular clock approaches and time-dependent rate estimates.