All Publications

  • nQMaker: estimating time non-reversible amino acid substitution models. Systematic biology Dang, C. C., Minh, B. Q., McShea, H., Masel, J., James, J. E., Vinh, L. S., Lanfear, R. 2022


    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 paper, we introduce a maximum likelihood approach nQMaker, an extension of the recently published QMaker method, that allows the estimation of time non-reversible amino acid substitution models and rooted phylogenetic trees from a set of protein sequence alignments. We show that the non-reversible models estimated with nQMaker are a much better fit to empirical alignments than pre-existing reversible models, across a wide range of datasets including mammals, birds, plants, fungi, and other taxa, and that the improvements in model fit scale with the size of the dataset. Notably, for the recently published plant and bird trees, these non-reversible 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 (, allowing users to estimate non-reversible models and rooted phylogenies from their own protein datasets. The datasets and scripts used in this paper are available at

    View details for DOI 10.1093/sysbio/syac007

    View details for PubMedID 35139203

  • Reconstructing the evolutionary history of nitrogenases: Evidence for ancestral molybdenum-cofactor utilization. Geobiology Garcia, A. K., McShea, H., Kolaczkowski, B., Kacar, B. 2020


    The nitrogenase metalloenzyme family, essential for supplying fixed nitrogen to the biosphere, is one of life's key biogeochemical innovations. The three forms of nitrogenase differ in their metal dependence, each binding either a FeMo-, FeV-, or FeFe-cofactor where the reduction of dinitrogen takes place. The history of nitrogenase metal dependence has been of particular interest due to the possible implication that ancient marine metal availabilities have significantly constrained nitrogenase evolution over geologic time. Here, we reconstructed the evolutionary history of nitrogenases, and combined phylogenetic reconstruction, ancestral sequence inference, and structural homology modeling to evaluate the potential metal dependence of ancient nitrogenases. We find that active-site sequence features can reliably distinguish extant Mo-nitrogenases from V- and Fe-nitrogenases and that inferred ancestral sequences at the deepest nodes of the phylogeny suggest these ancient proteins most resemble modern Mo-nitrogenases. Taxa representing early-branching nitrogenase lineages lack one or more biosynthetic nifE and nifN genes that both contribute to the assembly of the FeMo-cofactor in studied organisms, suggesting that early Mo-nitrogenases may have utilized an alternate and/or simplified pathway for cofactor biosynthesis. Our results underscore the profound impacts that protein-level innovations likely had on shaping global biogeochemical cycles throughout the Precambrian, in contrast to organism-level innovations that characterize the Phanerozoic Eon.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/gbi.12381

    View details for PubMedID 32065506