Modern usage of phylogenies

Besides evolutionary biology and systematics the inference of phylogenies is central to other areas of research.

As more and more genetic diversity is being revealed through the completion of multiple genomes, an active area of research within bioinformatics is the development of comparative machine learning algorithms that can simultaneously process data from multiple species [Siepel and Haussler, 2004]. Through the comparative approach, valuable evolutionary information can be obtained about which amino acid substitutions are functionally tolerant to the organism and which are not. This information can be used to identify substitutions that affect protein function and stability, and is of major importance to the study of proteins [Knudsen and Miyamoto, 2001]. Knowledge of the underlying phylogeny is, however, paramount to comparative methods of inference as the phylogeny describes the underlying correlation from shared history that exists between data from different species.

In molecular epidemiology of infectious diseases, phylogenetic inference is also an important tool. The very fast substitution rate of microorganisms, especially the RNA viruses, means that these show substantial genetic divergence over the time-scale of months and years. Therefore, the phylogenetic relationship between the pathogens from individuals in an epidemic can be resolved and contribute valuable epidemiological information about transmission chains and epidemiologically significant events [Leitner and Albert, 1999], [Forsberg et al., 2001].