Phylogenetic trees are used by researchers across multiple fields of study to display historical relationships between organisms or genes. Trees are used to examine the speciation process in evolutionary biology, to classify families of viruses in epidemiology, to demonstrate co-speciation in host and pathogen studies, and to explore genetic changes occurring during the disease process in cancer, among other applications. Due to their complexity and the amount of data they present in visual form, phylogenetic trees have generally been difficult to render for publication and challenging to directly interact with in digital form. To address these limitations, we developed PhyloPen, an experimental novel multi-touch and pen application that renders a phylogenetic tree and allows users to interactively navigate within the tree, examining nodes, branches, and auxiliary information, and annotate the tree for note-taking and collaboration. We present a discussion of the interactions implemented in PhyloPen and the results of a formative study that examines how the application was received after use by practicing biologists — faculty members and graduate students in the discipline. These results are to be later used for a fully supported implementation of the software where the community will be welcomed to participate in its development.
We describe our efforts to develop a software package, Arbor, that will enable scientific research in all aspects of comparative biology. This software will enable developmental biologists, geneticists, ecologists, geographers, paleobiologists, educators, and students to analyze diverse types of comparative data at multiple phylogenetic and spatiotemporal scales using an intuitive visual interface. Arbor’s user-defined workflows will be exported and shared so that entire analyses can be quickly replicated with new or updated data. Arbor will also be designed to easily and seamlessly expand to include novel analytical tools as they are developed. Here we describe the core components of Arbor, as well as provide details of one proposed test case to illustrate the software’s key functionality.