Phylogenies involving nonmodel species are based on a few genes, mostly chosen following historical or practical criteria. Because gene trees are sometimes incongruent with species trees, the resulting phylogenies may not accurately reflect the evolutionary relationships among species. The increase in availability of genome sequences now provides large numbers of genes that could be used for building phylogenies. However, for practical reasons only a few genes can be sequenced for a wide range of species. Here we asked whether we can identify a few genes, among the single-copy genes common to most fungal genomes, that are sufficient for recovering accurate and well-supported phylogenies. Fungi represent a model group for phylogenomics because many complete fungal genomes are available. An automated procedure was developed to extract single-copy orthologous genes from complete fungal genomes using a Markov Clustering Algorithm (Tribe-MCL). Using 21 complete, publicly available fungal genomes with reliable protein predictions, 246 single-copy orthologous gene clusters were identified. We inferred the maximum likelihood trees using the individual orthologous sequences and constructed a reference tree from concatenated protein alignments. The topologies of the individual gene trees were compared to that of the reference tree using three different methods. The performance of individual genes in recovering the reference tree was highly variable. Gene size and the number of variable sites were highly correlated and significantly affected the performance of the genes, but the average substitution rate did not. Two genes recovered exactly the same topology as the reference tree, and when concatenated provided high bootstrap values. The genes typically used for fungal phylogenies did not perform well, which suggests that current fungal phylogenies based on these genes may not accurately reflect the evolutionary relationships among species. Analyses on subsets of species showed that the phylogenetic performance did not seem to depend strongly on the sample. We expect that the best-performing genes identified here will be very useful for phylogenetic studies of fungi, at least at a large taxonomic scale. Furthermore, we compare the method developed here for finding genes for building robust phylogenies with previous ones and we advocate that our method could be applied to other groups of organisms when more complete genomes are available.
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