Background: The inference of genome rearrangement operations requires complete genome assemblies as input data, since a rearrangement can involve an arbitrarily large proportion of one or more chromosomes. Most genome sequence projects, especially those on non-model organisms for which no physical map exists, produce very fragmented assembles, so that a rearranged fragment may be impossible to identify because its two endpoints are on different scaffolds. However, breakpoints are easily identified, as long as they do not coincide with scaffold ends. For the phylogenetic context, in comparing a fragmented assembly with a number of complete assemblies, certain combinatorial constraints on breakpoints can be derived. We ask to what extent we can use breakpoint data between a fragmented genome and a number of complete genomes to recover all the arrangements in a phylogeny.
Results: We simulate genomic evolution via chromosomal inversion, fragmenting one of the genomes into a large number of scaffolds to represent the incompleteness of assembly. We identify all the breakpoints between this genome and the remainder. We devise an algorithm which takes these breakpoints into account in trying to determine on which branch of the phylogeny a rearrangement event occurred. We present an analysis of the dependence of recovery rates on scaffold size and rearrangement rate, and show that the true tree, the one on which the rearrangement simulation was performed, tends to be most parsimonious in estimating the number of true events inferred.
Conclusions: It is somewhat surprising that the breakpoints identified just between the fragmented genome and each of the others suffice to recover most of the rearrangements produced by the simulations. This holds even in parts of the phylogeny disjoint from the lineage of the fragmented genome.