SOFTWARE: Seeing the Forest for the Trees

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Science  08 Aug 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5634, pp. 741
DOI: 10.1126/science.301.5634.741c

Evolutionary biologists and population geneticists have a new tool to help them tackle such problems as measuring the speed of viral evolution and determining when the common ancestor of a group of organisms lived. Answering these questions requires that researchers draw a phylogenetic tree, usually from gene sequence data, but uncertainty over which pattern of branches is correct can snarl the analysis. Rather than relying on a single tree, a program called BEAST uses a statistical technique called Bayesian analysis to provide answers by averaging over all plausible trees. Users who have mastered other phylogeny programs such as PAUP can handle BEAST, says co-creator Alexei Drummond of the University of Oxford, U.K. But he and colleague Andrew Rambaut plan to release a tamer version that won't eat up novices. Download a free copy of the program here.

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