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Cellular & Molecular Biology Letters

Open Access

Molecular systematics: A synthesis of the common methods and the state of knowledge

Cellular & Molecular Biology LettersAn International Journal201015:10

Received: 16 August 2009

Accepted: 1 March 2010

Published: 5 March 2010


The comparative and evolutionary analysis of molecular data has allowed researchers to tackle biological questions that have long remained unresolved. The evolution of DNA and amino acid sequences can now be modeled accurately enough that the information conveyed can be used to reconstruct the past. The methods to infer phylogeny (the pattern of historical relationships among lineages of organisms and/or sequences) range from the simplest, based on parsimony, to more sophisticated and highly parametric ones based on likelihood and Bayesian approaches. In general, molecular systematics provides a powerful statistical framework for hypothesis testing and the estimation of evolutionary processes, including the estimation of divergence times among taxa. The field of molecular systematics has experienced a revolution in recent years, and, although there are still methodological problems and pitfalls, it has become an essential tool for the study of evolutionary patterns and processes at different levels of biological organization. This review aims to present a brief synthesis of the approaches and methodologies that are most widely used in the field of molecular systematics today, as well as indications of future trends and state-of-the-art approaches.

Key words

Molecular systematicsPhylogenetic inferenceMolecular evolutionPhylogenyEvolutionary analysisEvolutionary hypothesisDivergence time