Thursday, March 22, 2012

Youngest contributor to phylogenetic networks

Today, I want to introduce you to the person who appears to be the youngest contemporary contributor to the mathematics of phylogenetic networks.

The relevant paper is:
Ethan Cecchetti (2007) Orientability of phylogenetic network graphs. Rose-Hulman Undergraduate Mathematics Journal 8(2): 3.

The particular journal concerned is "devoted entirely to papers written by undergraduates on topics related to mathematics". Ethan Cecchetti went one better than this: at the time of the work, he was a final-year secondary pupil at Lexington High School, in Massachusetts U.S.A. He first presented the work at the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair in 2007.

At the moment this paper is listed in "Who is Who of Phylogenetic Networks" under the section "Articles or topics which may one day be in the database". However, there seems to be no reason not to include it. The standard of the mathematics seems to be good, discussing the requirements for an undirected graph to be turned into a directed acyclic graph.

The paper differs in only one obvious way from the standard stuff that we see in the current professional literature. A "network graph" is defined as having no directed circuits, and trivalent nodes with either indegree 1 and outdegree 2 or indegree 2 and outdegree 1. That is, there is no root node with indegree 0. All of the results follow from the lack of this unique root node.

Ethan has just recently graduated from Brown University, majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science. Some brief information is available on FaceBook, where his ultimate skill is also revealed. There is a less skillful (but more intriguing) appearance on YouTube, for those of you who would like to do a search.

This leads me to wonder who is the oldest contributor. That is, what is the paper that was published by the person who was the oldest at the time they produced the paper? And who was that person?


  1. "there seems to be no reason not to include it." : ok, c'est chose faite ;) !

    Unfortunately I did not add a "birthdate" field to the Who's who... But I think Andreas Dress (born in 1938) is a good candidate with his 2012 book, published at age 73 (An Introduction to Phylogenetic Combinatorics) or his 2008 article on block realizations in the European Journal of Combinatorics if you really want an article, or his 2007 QNet article in Molecular Biology and Evolution if you really want an article which explicitly deals with phylogenetic networks.

    1. Yes, Andreas was my original guess, too. However, like you, I do not have a list of birth dates!