Motivation: Previous studies have shown that accounting for site-specific amino acid replacement patterns using mixtures of stationary probability profiles offers a promising approach for improving the robustness of phylogenetic reconstructions in the presence of saturation. However, such profile mixture models were introduced only in a Bayesian context, and are not yet available in a maximum likelihood (ML) framework. In addition, these mixture models only perform well on large alignments, from which they can reliably learn the shapes of profiles, and their associated weights.
Results: In this work, we introduce an expectation-maximization algorithm for estimating amino acid profile mixtures from alignment databases. We apply it, learning on the HSSP database, and observe that a set of 20 profiles is enough to provide a better statistical fit than currently available empirical matrices (WAG, JTT), in particular on saturated data.