SISTA Colloquium Details
Date: Monday, October 18, 2010
Time: 12:00 p.m.
Location: Gould-Simpson Bldg., Room 906
Light refreshments: 9th floor atrium area - 11:50 a.m.
Speaker: Michael Sanderson, Professor
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Arizona
Title: Computational Challenges in Building the Evolutionary Tree of Life
Abstract: Inferring the evolutionary relationships of the 1.8 million described biological species is a central challenge of modern biology. Although there is no shortage of data to apply to the task (100's of millions of DNA sequences sampled across at least 10% of these species), the computational, mathematical and engineering obstacles are daunting. In this talk I will briefly discuss the "canonical" problems in this field: multiple sequence alignment and tree reconstruction, but delve more deeply into emerging problems that are upstream and downstream of these. Upstream problems include data mining and data set assembly issues; downstream problems include assembling small trees into larger ones, reconciling conflicting trees with each other, and accounting for biologically confounding processes that perturb the standard paradigm of tree-like evolutionary inference. Because exact solutions are largely unknowable for most of these problems when the problem size exceeds a few dozen species, I conclude with some discussion of the prospects for statistically strong inference at the scale of the entire tree of life.