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This module provides classes, functions and I/O support for working with phylogenetic trees.

This code is not yet included with Biopython, and therefore the documentation has not been integrated into the Biopython Tutorial yet either.



The source code for this module is being developed on GitHub, but has not yet been included with a stable Biopython release. If you're interested in testing this code before the official release, see SourceCode for instructions on getting a copy of the development branch.


  • Python 2.4 or newer
  • ElementTree module

To draw trees (optional), you'll also need these packages:

The I/O and tree-manipulation functionality will work without them; they're imported on demand when the functions to_networkx() and draw_graphviz() are called.

The XML parser used in the PhyloXMLIO sub-module is ElementTree, added to the Python standard library in Python 2.5. To use this module in Python 2.4, you'll need to install a separate package that provides the ElementTree interface. Two exist:

PhyloXMLIO attempts to import each of these compatible ElementTree implementations until it succeeds. The given XML file handle is then parsed incrementally to instantiate an object hierarchy containing the relevant phylogenetic information.

I/O functions

Wrappers for supported file formats are available from the top level of the module:

from Bio import Phylo

Like SeqIO and AlignIO, this module provides four I/O functions: parse(), read(), write() and convert(). Each function accepts either a file name or an open file handle, so data can be also loaded from compressed files, StringIO objects, and so on. If the file name is passed as a string, the file is automatically closed when the function finishes; otherwise, you're responsible for closing the handle yourself.

The second argument to each function is the target format. Currently, the following formats are supported:

  • phyloxml
  • newick
  • nexus

See the PhyloXML page for more examples of using tree objects.


Incrementally parse each tree in the given file or handle, returning an iterator of Tree objects (i.e. some subclass of the Bio.Phylo.BaseTree Tree class, depending on the file format).

>>> trees = Phylo.parse('phyloxml_examples.xml', 'phyloxml')
>>> for tree in trees:
...     print
example from Prof. Joe Felsenstein's book "Inferring Phylogenies"
example from Prof. Joe Felsenstein's book "Inferring Phylogenies"
same example, with support of type "bootstrap"
same example, with species and sequence
same example, with gene duplication information and sequence relationships
similar example, with more detailed sequence data
network, node B is connected to TWO nodes: AB and C

If there's only one tree, then the next() method on the resulting generator will return it.

>>> tree = Phylo.parse('phyloxml_examples.xml', 'phyloxml').next()
'example from Prof. Joe Felsenstein\'s book "Inferring Phylogenies"'

Note that this doesn't immediately reveal whether there are any remaining trees -- if you want to verify that, use read() instead.


Parse and return exactly one tree from the given file or handle. If the file contains zero or multiple trees, a ValueError is raised. This is useful if you know a file contains just one tree, to load that tree object directly rather than through parse() and next(), and as a safety check to ensure the input file does in fact contain exactly one phylogenetic tree at the top level.

tree ='example.xml', 'phyloxml')
print tree


Write a sequence of Tree objects to the given file or handle. Passing a single Tree object instead of a list or iterable will also work. (See, Phylo is friendly.)

tree1 ='example1.xml', 'phyloxml')
tree2 ='example2.xml', 'phyloxml')
Phylo.write([tree1, tree2], 'example-both.xml', 'phyloxml')


Given two files (or handles) and two formats, both supported by Bio.Phylo, convert the first file from the first format to the second format, writing the output to the second file.

Phylo.convert('example.nhx', 'newick', 'example2.nex', 'nexus')


Within the Phylo module are parsers and writers for specific file formats, conforming to the basic top-level API and sometimes adding additional features.

PhyloXMLIO: Support for the phyloXML format. See the PhyloXML page for details.

NewickIO: A port of the parser in Bio.Nexus.Trees to support the Newick (a.k.a. New Hampshire) format through the Phylo API.

NexusIO: Wrappers around Bio.Nexus to support the Nexus tree format.

The Nexus format actually contains several sub-formats for different kinds of data; to represent trees, Nexus provides a block containing some metadata and one or more Newick trees. (Another kind of Nexus block can represent alignments; this is handled in AlignIO.) So to parse a complete Nexus file with all block types handled, use Bio.Nexus directly, and to extract just the trees, use Bio.Phylo. Integration between Bio.Nexus and Bio.Phylo will be improved in the future.

Tree and Subtree classes

The basic objects are defined in Bio.Phylo.BaseTree.

Format-specific extensions

To support additional information stored in specific file formats, sub-modules within Tree offer additional classes that inherit from BaseTree classes.

Each sub-class of BaseTree.Tree or Node has a class method to promote an object from the basic type to the format-specific one. These sub-class objects can generally be treated as instances of the basic type without any explicit conversion.

PhyloXML: Support for the phyloXML format. See the PhyloXML page for details.

Newick: The Newick module provides minor enhancements to the BaseTree classes, plus several shims for compatibility with the existing Bio.Nexus module. The API for this module is under development and should not be relied on, other than the functionality already provided by BaseTree.


Some additional tools are located in the Utils module under Bio.Phylo. These functions are also loaded to the top level of the Phylo module on import for easy access.

Where a third-party package is required, that package is imported when the function itself is called, so these dependencies are not necessary to install or use the rest of the Tree module.

Exporting to other object representations

Although any phylogenetic tree can reasonably be represented by a directed acyclic graph, the Phylo module does not attempt to provide a generally usable graph library -- only the minimum functionality to represent phylogenetic trees. Instead, it provides functions for exporting tree objects to the standard graph representations, adjacency list (dict) and adjacency matrix, using third-party libraries.

to_networkx returns the given tree as a NetworkX LabeledDiGraph or LabeledGraph object (depending on whether the tree is rooted). You'll probably need to import networkx directly for subsequent operations on the graph object. From this point you can also try using one of networkx's drawing functions to display the tree, and for simple, fully labeled trees it may even work -- but you'll have better results with Phylo's own draw_graphviz function, discussed below.

import networkx, pylab
tree ='example.xml', 'phyloxml')
net = Phylo.to_networkx(tree)

to_adjacency_matrix produces an adjacency matrix as an instance of a NumPy 2-dimensional array, where cell values are branch lengths and rows and columns are vertices in the graph (i.e. nodes in the tree, the root of each clade). The returned tuple includes a list of all clade objects in the original tree, used for determining the indexes of cells in the matrix corresponding to clades or branches in the tree.

Displaying trees

pretty_print produces a plain-text representation of the entire tree. Uses str() to display nodes by default; for the longer repr() representation, add the argument show_all=True.

Strings are automatically truncated to ensure reasonable display.

>>> phx ='phyloxml_examples.xml', 'phyloxml')
>>> Phylo.pretty_print(phx)
Phylogeny example from Prof. Joe Felsenstein's book "Inferring Phylogenies"
			Clade A
			Clade B
		Clade C
>>> Phylo.pretty_print(phx, show_all=True)
Phylogeny(description='phyloXML allows to use either a "branch_length"
attribute or element to indicate branch lengths.', name='example from
Prof. Joe Felsenstein's book "Inferring Phylogenies"')
			Clade(branch_length=0.102, name='A')
			Clade(branch_length=0.23, name='B')
		Clade(branch_length=0.4, name='C')

draw_graphviz mimics the networkx function of the same name, with some tweaks to improve the display of the graph. If a file name is given, the graph is drawn directly to that file, and options such as image format (default PDF) may be used. Prerequisites: In addition to networkx, you'll need a local installation of Graphviz,

matplotlib and either PyGraphviz or pydot.
tree ='example.xml', 'phyloxml')
# Draw it a few different ways
Phylo.draw_graphviz(tree, 'example.pdf')
Phylo.draw_graphviz(tree, 'example.png', format='png')

draw_ascii prints an ascii-art rooted phylogram to standard output, or another file handle if specified. Only terminal node labels are shown; these are clade names, but can be something else generated by the 'labeller' argument (which works the same as in draw_graphviz). The width of the text field used for drawing is 80 characters by default, adjustable by keyword argument, and the height in character rows is twice the number of terminals in the tree.

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