Relaxed neighbor joining: a fast distance-based phylogenetic tree construction method

J Mol Evol. 2006 Jun;62(6):785-92. doi: 10.1007/s00239-005-0176-2. Epub 2006 Apr 28.


Our ability to construct very large phylogenetic trees is becoming more important as vast amounts of sequence data are becoming readily available. Neighbor joining (NJ) is a widely used distance-based phylogenetic tree construction method that has historically been considered fast, but it is prohibitively slow for building trees from increasingly large datasets. We developed a fast variant of NJ called relaxed neighbor joining (RNJ) and performed experiments to measure the speed improvement over NJ. Since repeated runs of the RNJ algorithm generate a superset of the trees that repeated NJ runs generate, we also assessed tree quality. RNJ is dramatically faster than NJ, and the quality of resulting trees is very similar for the two algorithms. The results indicate that RNJ is a reasonable alternative to NJ and that it is especially well suited for uses that involve large numbers of taxa or highly repetitive procedures such as bootstrapping.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Phylogeny*