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The recent rapid expansion in the DNA and protein databases, arising from large-scale genomic and metagenomic sequence projects, has forced significant development in the field of phylogenetics: the study of the evolutionary relatedness of the planet’s inhabitants. Advances in phylogenetic analysis have greatly transformed our view of the landscape of evolutionary biology, transcending the view of the tree of life that has shaped evolutionary theory since Darwinian times. Indeed, modern phylogenetic analysis no longer focuses on the restricted Darwinian–Mendelian model of vertical gene transfer, but must also consider the significant degree of lateral gene transfer, which connects and shapes almost all living things. Herein, I review the major tree-building methods, their strengths, weaknesses and future prospects.