More data improves phylogenetic profiling

Phylogenetic profiling is a well-established approach for predicting gene function based on patterns of gene presence and absence across species. Much of the recent developments have focused on methodological improvements, but relatively little is known about the effect of input data size on the quality of predictions. In this work, we ask: how many genomes and functional annotations need to be considered for phylogenetic profiling to be effective?

Phylogenetic profiling generally benefits from an increased amount of input data. However, by decomposing this improvement in predictive accuracy in terms of the contribution of additional genomes and of additional annotations, we observed diminishing returns in adding more than ∼100 genomes, whereas increasing the number of annotations remained strongly beneficial throughout. We also observed that maximising phylogenetic diversity within a clade of interest improves predictive accuracy, but the effect is small compared to changes in the number of genomes under comparison. Finally, we show that these findings are supported in light of the Open World Assumption, which posits that functional annotation databases are inherently incomplete. All the tools and data used in this work are available for reuse from http://lab.dessimoz.org/14_phylprof. Scripts used to analyse the data are available on request from the authors.

This article was published in PLOS One.