Journal of Molecular Evolution

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 129–142

Construction of phylogenetic trees for proteins and nucleic acids: Empirical evaluation of alternative matrix methods

  • Ellen M. Prager
  • Allan C. Wilson


The methods of Fitch and Margoliash and of Farris for the construction of phylogenetic trees were compared. A phenetic clustering technique - the UPGMA method — was also considered.

The three methods were applied to difference matrices obtained from comparison of macromolecules by immunological, DNA hybridization, electrophoretic, and amino acid sequencing techniques. To evaluate the results, we used the goodness-of-fit criterion. In some instances, the F-M and Farris methods gave a comparably good fit of the output to the input data, though in most cases the F-M procedure gave a much better fit. By the fit criterion, the UPGMA procedure was on the average better than the Farris method but not as good as the F-M procedure.

On the basis of the results given in this report and the goodness-of-fit criterion, it is suggested that where input data are likely to include overestimates as well as true estimates and underestimates of the actual distances between taxonomic units, the F-M method is the most reasonable to use for constructing phylogenies from distance matrices. Immunological, DNA hybridization, and electrophoretic data fall into this category. By contrast, where it is known that each input datum is indeed either a true estimate or an underestimate of the actual distance between 2 taxonomic units, the Farris procedure appears, on theoretical grounds, to be the matrix method of choice. Amino acid and nucleotide sequence data are in this category.

Key words

Fitch-Margoliash Trees Farris Trees Distance Wagner Procedure UPGMA Clustering Immunology Micro-Complement Fixation Electrophoresis DNA Hybridization Amino Acid Sequences Protein Evolution 

The following abbreviations are used in this work




unweighted pair-group method using arithmetic averages


percent standard deviation


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellen M. Prager
    • 1
  • Allan C. Wilson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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