Maximum likelihood inference of time stamped phylogenies and ancestral reconstruction
Fetching latest commit…
Cannot retrieve the latest commit at this time.
Failed to load latest commit information.
doc added pic to README Aug 20, 2016
test naming conventions and fixed test scripts Oct 31, 2016

Build Status

TreeTime: maximum likelihood dating and ancestral inference for phylogenetic trees


TreeTime provides routines for ancestral sequence reconstruction and the inference of molecular-clock phylogenies, i.e., a tree where all branches are scaled such that the locations of terminal nodes correspond to their sampling times and internal nodes are placed at the most likely time of divergence.

TreeTime aims at striking a compromise between sophisticated probabilistic models of evolution and fast heuristics. It implements GTR models of ancestral inference and branch length optimization, but takes the tree topology as given. To optimize the likelihood of time-scaled phylogenies, treetime uses an iterative approach that first infers ancestral sequences given the branch length of the tree, then optimizes the positions of unconstrained nodes on the time axis, and then repeats this cycle. The only topology optimization are (optional) resolution of polytomies in a way that is most (approximately) consistent with the sampling time constraints on the tree. The package is designed to be used as a stand-alone tool or as a library used in larger phylogenetic analysis workflows.


  • ancestral sequence reconstruction (marginal and joint maximum likelihood)
  • molecular clock tree inference (marginal and joint maximum likelihood)
  • inference of GTR models
  • rerooting to obtain best root-to-tip regression
  • auto-correlated relaxed molecular clock (with normal prior)

Molecular clock phylogeny of 200 NA sequences of influenza A H3N2

Getting started

Installation and prerequisites

  • The package depends on several python libraries:

    • numpy, scipy: for all kind of mathematical operations as matrix operations, numerical integration, interpolation, minimization, etc.

    • BioPython: for parsing multiple sequence alignments and all phylogenetic functionality

    • matplotlib: optional dependency for plotting If you do not have these libraries, you can install them by typing in the terminal:

      $pip install numpy scipy biopython matplotlib
  • To install the package, run script from the terminal:

    $python install

You might need root privileges for system wide installation. Alternatively, you can simply use it TreeTime locally without installation. In this case, just download and unpack it, and then add the TreeTime folder to your $PYTHONPATH.

Basic usage

TreeTime can be used as part of python programs that create and interact with tree time objects. How treetime can be used to address typical questions like ancestral sequence reconstruction, rerooting, timetree inference etc is illustrated by a collection of example scripts described below.

In addition, we provide scripts that can be run from the command line with arguments specifying input data and parameters.

  • Ancestral sequence reconstruction:

    To perform ancestral sequence reconstruction, use the script

    usage: [-h] --aln ALN --tree TREE [--marginal]
    Reconstructs ancestral sequences and maps mutations to the tree. The output
    consists of a file ending with _ancestral.fasta with ancestral sequences and a
    tree ending with _mutation.newick with mutations appended to node names as
    _A45G_... The inferred GTR model is written to stdout
    optional arguments:
      -h, --help   show this help message and exit
      --aln ALN    fasta file with input sequences
      --tree TREE  newick file with tree
      --marginal   marginal instead of joint ML reconstruction
      --infer_gtr  infer substitution model

    Alteratively, directly interact with the class TreeAnc from treetime as follows

      from treetime import TreeAnc
      ta = TreeAnc(tree='my_tree.nwk', aln='my_seqs.nwk', gtr='JC69')
      ta.infer_ancestral_sequences(method = 'ml', infer_gtr=True, marginal=False)

    Every node of ta.tree now has a node.sequence attached. With the optional argument infer_gtr=True, a maximum likelihood GTR model is inferred and overwrites the initial one, the option marginal=True can be used to construct a marginal rather than joint maximum likelihood reconstruction, and 'prune_short=False' can be used to avoid collapsing of zero length branches into polytomies.

    The tree and alignment arguments can be either file names (newick and fasta) or Biopython tree and alignent objects.

  • Molecular clock phylogenies

    To infer molecular clock phylogenies, use the script

    usage: [-h] --aln ALN --tree TREE --dates DATES
                                 [--infer_gtr] [--reroot REROOT]
                                 [--relax [RELAX [RELAX ...]]]
                                 [--max_iter MAX_ITER] [--verbose VERBOSE]
                                 [--Tc TC] [--plot]
    Reconstructs ancestral sequences and infers a molecular clock tree. The output
    consists of a file ending with _ancestral.fasta with ancestral sequences and a
    tree ending with _mutation.newick with mutations appended to node names as
    _A45G_.... The branches of this tree are scaled such that branch length
    correspond to times in units of the molecular clock. The molecular clock,
    along with the inferred GTR model, is written to stdout
    optional arguments:
      -h, --help            show this help message and exit
      --aln ALN             fasta file with input sequences
      --tree TREE           newick file with tree
      --dates DATES         csv with dates for nodes with 'node_name, date' where
                            date is float (as in 2012.15)
      --infer_gtr           infer substitution model
      --reroot REROOT       reroot the tree. Valid arguments are 'best',
                            'midpoint', or a node name
      --resolve_polytomies  resolve polytomies using temporal information.
      --relax [RELAX [RELAX ...]]
                            use an autocorrelated molecular clock. Prior strength
                            and coupling of parent and offspring rates can be
                            specified e.g. as --relax 1.0 0.5
      --max_iter MAX_ITER   maximal number of iterations the inference cycle is
      --verbose VERBOSE     verbosity of output 0-6
      --Tc TC               coalescent time scale -- sensible values are on the
                            order of the average hamming distance of
                            contemporaneous sequences
      --plot                plot the tree on a time axis

    Alternatively, you can interact directly with the TreeTime class from within a script.

      from treetime import TreeTime
      tt = TreeTime(dates=mydates, tree='my_tree.nwk', aln='my_seqs.nwk', gtr='JC69')'best', infer_gtr=True, relaxed_clock=(1.0,1.0), resolve_polytomies=True, max_iter=2)

    Every node of tt.tree will be assigned a numdate and time_before_present attribute. The additional attribute resolve_polytomies specifies whether TreeTime will attempt to resolve multiple mergers using the temporal constraints on leaves. Autocorrelated relaxed clocks can be fit by passing a tuple of two numbers (slack, coupling). slack is the strength of the normal prior on rate variation, coupling penalizes rate variation between parents and children.

  • Quantify temporal signal in phylogenies and reroot to the maximize "clock-i-ness"

    The script provides functionality analogous to TempEst by Andrew Rambaut.

        usage: [-h] --tree TREE --dates DATES [--aln ALN]
                                  [--infer_gtr] [--reroot] [--plot]
                                  [--verbose VERBOSE]
        Calculates the root-to-tip regression and quantifies the 'clock-i-ness' of the
        tree. It will optionally reroot the tree to maximize the clock-like signal and
        recalculate branch length.
        optional arguments:
          -h, --help         show this help message and exit
          --tree TREE        newick file with tree
          --dates DATES      csv with dates for nodes with 'node_name, date' where
                             date is float (as in 2012.15)
          --aln ALN          fasta file with input sequences
          --infer_gtr        infer substitution model
          --reroot           reroot the tree to maximize the correlation of root-to-
                             tip distance with sampling time
          --verbose VERBOSE  verbosity of output 0-6

    The slope of the regression of root-to-tip distance vs sampling date will be printed to stdout along with the fraction of variance explained by the linear regression. By passing the flag --reroot, treetime will search for the root that maximizes the correlation of root-to-tip distance with time and reroot the tree. The option --plot will produce a scatter plot with the best regression and save it to file.

Example scripts

The following scripts illustrate how treetime can be used to solve common problem with short python scripts. They are meant to be used in an interactive ipython enviroment and run as run examples/

  • illustrates how ancestral sequences are inferred and likely mutations are assinged to branches in the tree
  • walks the user through the usage of relaxed molecular clock models
  • uses about 300 sequences from the 2014-2015 Ebola virus outbreak to infer a timetree. This example takes a few minutes to run.

Comparable Tools

There are several other tools which estimate molecular clock phylogenies.

  • Beast relies on the MCMC-type sampling of trees. It is hence rather slow for large data sets. But BEAST allows the flexible inclusion of prior distributions, complex evolutionary models, and estimation of parameters.
  • Least-Square-Dating (LSD) emphasises speed (it scales as O(N) as TreeTime), but provides limited scope for customization.

Developer info

  • Credits -- .
  • Copyright and License: Pavel Sagulenko and Richard Neher, MIT Licence
  • How to contribute
  • References