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This is a prototype implementation of a phylotastic (!/search/%23phylotastic) app that takes a very big tree and a list of taxa and returns a topology for just those taxa by pruning down the very big tree. There are different ways in which this can be done, including by recursive calls into a database (which probably would need to hit the database many times) or by loading the whole tree into memory (which might take a while to read in the file, and cost a bit of memory).

The way it is done here is much cooler than that (in fact, it's phylotastic), because it never requires the whole tree to be in memory or in a database: the pruning is done in parallel using MapReduce ( Some tests on the entire dump of the Tree of Life Web Project ( showed that this in fact does return a pruned subtree within a few seconds, fast enough for a web service. It would go even quicker if this was actually run on multiple compute nodes and if we ported the implementation to Java so that it embeds more tightly into hadoop. (The prototype mapper, reducer and combiner scripts are written in Perl.)


Assume we have a tree like this:


In graphical form:

      |     |
B-----+     | 
C-----+     |      |
      |     |      |
      2-----+      4------+
      |            |      |
D-----+            |      |
                   |      |
E------------------+      6
F-----+                   |
      |                   |

The nodes on this tree are labelled with integers (1-6), which have been applied in a post-order traversal. The important point of this is that a child node will always have a label whose value is a lower number than any of its ancestors. Now assume that we want to get a tree that retains these tips:


Such that we end up with a tree like this:


In graphical form:

      |     |
C-----+     | 
F-----+     |
      |     |

We're going to solve this using MapReduce. Here are the steps:


In the first step, the map function is passed one taxon of interest per call. In response to each of these, it returns a list of key value pairs, where each key is a node label for one of the nodes between the taxon and the root of the tree, and the value is the taxon. This is what it emits:

(for A:)
1 => A
3 => A
4 => A
6 => A

(for C:)
2 => C
3 => C
4 => C
6 => C

(for F:)
5 => F
6 => F

(for G:)
5 => G
6 => G

In the second step, the output of the map function are passed into a combiner. The hadoop toolkit we're using preprocesses the output from map such that for each key that was emitted multiple times by map the input now becomes such that that key is only seen once, with a list of the values associated with it, i.e. like so:

1 => [ A ]
2 => [ C ]
3 => [ A, C ]
4 => [ A, C ]
5 => [ F, G ]
6 => [ A, C, F, G ]

In this step we're now going to switch the keys and values around, as a first step towards filtering out the unbranched internal node that was created by pruning E (so is that node 3 or 4?). In addition, we will also want to prune out the unbranched internals that were created by pruning B and D (being node 1 and 2, respectively). For that we're going to count how many descendants those nodes have. So two things: switch keys and values, count number of descendants. Because keys and values we emit need to be scalars we concatenate the keys with | and the values with , (for example). Here's the result we're going to emit:

A       => 1,1 # the first integer is the node ID, the second its tip count
C       => 2,1
A|C     => 3,2
A|C     => 4,2
F|G     => 5,2
A|C|F|G => 6,4

Out of these we firstly want to filter out "unbranched internals" such as node 1 and 2, which became "unbranched" by the pruning of B and D, respectively. This is easy, because we just won't emit any key/value pairs where the value has a tip count of one (the integer after the comma). For 3 and 4 it's a bit harder, we know they're both on the path to the root for both A and C, but the only way to know which of these is the MRCA is by recourse to our node labelling scheme: because the labels were applied in post-order, descendants have lower label values than ancestors, and so 3 is the MRCA. Having so reduced the number of key/value pairs, we finally emit:

A|C     => 3,2
F|G     => 5,2
A|C|F|G => 6,4

This final result is a taxon bipartition table (with labels for each implied node retained), so turning that into a format the user wants should be a trivial exercise.


To make this work, you firstly need to install a couple of dependencies. The following three are best installed from the CPAN shell (i.e. sudo cpan Moose and so on):

Moose -
Bio::Phylo -
Hadoop::Streaming -

In addition you will need to install Hadoop ( This is pretty simple if you just get the compiled version and unpack it. All you need to do is set the $HADOOP_HOME and $HADOOP_VERSION environment variables correctly.

The prerequisites aside, there are no installation scripts for this package (Makefile.PL or Build.PL), META.yml, unit tests or any of the other goodies for this yet. Feel free to contribute these if you feel they are necessary :-)


The Makefile implements several example targets that can be invoked to sample a percentage of tips from one of the megatrees in the examples/rawdata directory. All of these are invoked in the same way:

make PERCENTAGE=<integer 1..99> sample_<megatree>

For example, to get a tree outfile.tre that has a random 10% of the tips from Smith_2011_angiosperms.txt, do:

make PERCENTAGE=10 sample_angio

The megatree can be one of the following:

fishes - the first tree from Westneat_Lundberg_BigFishTree.nex
mammals - the first tree from Bininda-emonds_2007_mammals.nex
tol - the tree from TOL.xml
angio - the tree from Smith_2011_angiosperms.txt
phylomatic - the tree from Phylomatictree.nex

When you run any of these targets for the first time there is a pre-processing step that takes a fair amount of time. Once this is done the first time, additional invocations will go pretty fast, each time overwriting the Newick file outfile.tre.



For your nerdy edification - during the pre-processing step, two things need to happen: i) nodes need to be labelled in a post-order traversal; ii) for each tip in the tree, the path to the root needs to be constructed based on those node labels. Each path then needs to be written out to a separate file, named after the MD5 hex hash of the focal taxon. For our example tree here, this will write out the following paths (each line in a separate file with some opaque name):

A  1   3   4   6
B  1   3   4   6
C  2   3   4   6
D  2   3   4   6
E  4   6
F  5   6
G  5   6

The script/ script does that. Pre-processing outside of the invocation that the Makefile does implicitly is done as follows:

perl \
   --file=<input tree> \ # e.g. examples/tolweb/tolskeletaldump.xml
   --format=<input tree format> \ # e.g. tolweb, or nexml/newick/nexus/phyloxml
   --dir=<dir to write to>

If you actually run this on the TOL.xml, be aware that this step will take several minutes: it's a big tree. Luckily we only have to do this once! When that's done, the Makefile will then run a query, which when done by hand looks roughly like this:

$HADOOP_HOME/bin/hadoop jar $HADOOP_HOME/hadoop-$HADOOP_VERSION-streaming.jar \
   -cmdenv DATADIR=<dir that you wrote to> \ # i.e. the output from
   -cmdenv PERL5LIB="$(PERL5LIB):lib" \ # to add this package to Perl class path 
   -input <file with taxa to keep, one per line> \ # e.g. ./sample.txt
   -output <dir for hadoop to write to> \ # this dir must not exist yet, e.g. ./tmp
   -mapper script/pruner/ \
   -combiner script/pruner/ \
   -reducer script/pruner/ \

When you run that, there will be a firehose of logging messages from log4j (and a couple from Bio::Phylo). Once it's done there will be a part-00000 file inside your output folder with the taxon bipartition table as described above. This file can be turned into a Newick string as follows (again, this is done by the Makefile):

perl script/ <part-00000 file> > outfile.tre


None of this has actually been tested on a multinode machine, and I'm a MapReduce novice. My understanding is that the algorithm is stateless enough to be able to run in a distributed fashion, but I'm eager to learn if it works.

Also, there needs to be more post-processing of the results. Conceivably, the post-processing needs to be MapReduced as well if the output is very large, but either way it would be nice to have it in an actual tree format.

And of course there should be more docs, unit tests, install scripts, etc. Alternatively, the algorithm could be ported to Java so we don't need any additional CPAN niceties (but then we need Java niceties).