XRate: a fast prototyping, training and annotation tool for phylo-grammars. Results: We have developed an open source software tool, xrate, for working with reversible, irreversible or parametric substitution models combined with stochastic context-free grammars. xrate efficiently estimates maximum-likelihood parameters and phylogenetic trees using a novel ”phylo-EM” algorithm that we describe. The grammar is specified in an external configuration file, allowing users to design new grammars, estimate rate parameters from training data and annotate multiple sequence alignments without the need to recompile code from source. We have used xrate to measure codon substitution rates and predict protein and RNA secondary structures. Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that xrate estimates biologically meaningful rates and makes predictions whose accuracy is comparable to that of more specialized tools.

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