nQMaker: Estimating Time Nonreversible Amino Acid Substitution Models

Cuong Cao Dang, Bui Quang Minh, Hanon McShea, Joanna Masel, Jennifer Eleanor James, Le Sy Vinh, Robert Lanfear

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Amino acid substitution models are a key component in phylogenetic analyses of protein sequences. All commonly used amino acid models available to date are time-reversible, an assumption designed for computational convenience but not for biological reality. Another significant downside to time-reversible models is that they do not allow inference of rooted trees without outgroups. In this article, we introduce a maximum likelihood approach nQMaker, an extension of the recently published QMaker method, that allows the estimation of time nonreversible amino acid substitution models and rooted phylogenetic trees from a set of protein sequence alignments. We show that the nonreversible models estimated with nQMaker are a much better fit to empirical alignments than pre-existing reversible models, across a wide range of data sets including mammals, birds, plants, fungi, and other taxa, and that the improvements in model fit scale with the size of the data set. Notably, for the recently published plant and bird trees, these nonreversible models correctly recovered the commonly estimated root placements with very high-statistical support without the need to use an outgroup. We provide nQMaker as an easy-to-use feature in the IQ-TREE software (http://www.iqtree.org), allowing users to estimate nonreversible models and rooted phylogenies from their own protein data sets. The data sets and scripts used in this article are available at https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.3tx95x6hx. [amino acid sequence analyses; amino acid substitution models; maximum likelihood model estimation; nonreversible models; phylogenetic inference; reversible models.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1110-1123
Number of pages14
JournalSystematic biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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