In 1981, the Journal of Molecular Evolution (JME) published an article entitled "Evolutionary trees from DNA sequences: A maximum likelihood approach" by Joseph (Joe) Felsenstein (J Mol Evol 17:368-376, 1981). This groundbreaking work laid the foundation for the emerging field of statistical phylogenetics, providing a tractable way of finding maximum likelihood (ML) estimates of evolutionary trees from DNA sequence data. This paper is the second most cited (more than 9000 citations) in JME after Kimura's (J Mol Evol 16:111-120, 1980) seminal paper on a model of nucleotide substitution (with nearly 20,000 citations). On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of JME, we elaborate on the significance of Felsenstein's ML approach to estimating phylogenetic trees.
Keywords: Evolution; Maximum likelihood; Models of nucleotide substitution; Phylogeny.