An alignment confidence score capturing robustness to guide tree uncertainty

Osnat Penn, Eyal Privman, Giddy Landan, Dan Graur, Tal Pupko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Multiple sequence alignment (MSA) is the basis for a wide range of comparative sequence analyses from molecular phylogenetics to 3D structure prediction. Sophisticated algorithms have been developed for sequence alignment, but in practice, many errors can be expected and extensive portions of the MSA are unreliable. Hence, it is imperative to understand and characterize the various sources of errors in MSAs and to quantify site-specific alignment confidence. In this paper, we show that uncertainties in the guide tree used by progressive alignment methods are a major source of alignment uncertainty. We use this insight to develop a novel method for quantifying the robustness of each alignment column to guide tree uncertainty. We build on the widely used bootstrap method for perturbing the phylogenetic tree. Specifically, we generate a collection of trees and use each as a guide tree in the alignment algorithm, thus producing a set of MSAs. We next test the consistency of every column of the MSA obtained from the unperturbed guide tree with respect to the set of MSAs. We name this measure the "GUIDe tree based AligNment ConfidencE" (GUIDANCE) score. Using the Benchmark Alignment data BASE benchmark as well as simulation studies, we show that GUIDANCE scores accurately identify errors in MSAs. Additionally, we compare our results with the previously published Heads-or-Tails score and show that the GUIDANCE score is a better predictor of unreliably aligned regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1759-1767
Number of pages9
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • alignment confidence
  • bootstrap
  • guide tree
  • multiple sequence alignment
  • phylogeny

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology


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