CARTA Glossary

Displaying 1 - 78 of 78 defined words for "The Evolution of Human Physical Activity". To see all CARTA defined words, please view the complete glossary.

Word Definition Related Vocabulary
Adaptive archaic introgression

The persistence of beneficial DNA variants in the modern human genome that were gained through interbreeding with now-extinct archaic species, such as Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Amino acids

Organic compounds that are the building blocks of proteins and participate in a number of processes such as neurotransmitter transport and biosynthesis. Amino acids are encoded by the genome as different three nucleotide codes.


The science of movement from a mechanical perspective; how muscles, bones, and other parts of the body work to produce movement or locomotion.


A complex of DNA and proteins (histone and adaptor proteins) forming chromosomes.


Discrete strands of tightly packaged chromatin.

Cost of transport

How much energy it takes to move from point A to point B.

Cytidine monophospho-N-acetylneuraminic acid hydroxylase (Cmah) enzyme

An enzyme encoded by the CMAH gene that modifies sialic acids in most mammals by modifying N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac) into N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc). The enzyme modifies sialic acid in its sugar nucleotide form (CMP-Neu5Ac to CMP-Neu5Gc).

Cytidine monophospho-N-acetylneuraminic acid hydroxylase (CMAH) gene

The human lineage lost the function of the CMAH gene over 2 million years ago that caused human cells to both lack Neu5Gc and carry an excess of Neu5Ac.

Daily energy expenditure

Total number of calories burned in a day.


An extinct hominin population contemporary with Neanderthals that hybridized with ancient humans and Neanderthals. Knowledge of Denisovan morphology is limited to two small fossils found in Siberia and a jaw in Tibet.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)

The molecule of inheritance, which consists of sequences of the four nucleotide bases: Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, and Cytosine.

DNA sequence

The specific order of the nucleotide bases along a strand of DNA.

Eccrine sweat gland

A type of secretory gland found in the skin. These glands are found throughout the body of humans and other primates. In response to neural stimulation, these glands secret water (sweat) onto the skin. In humans, eccrine sweat glands are the most abundant glands in the skin and are essential for the main mechanism of cooling in our species, which occurs when water (sweat) secreted by these glands causes evaporative cooling.

Ectodermal appendage

A class of organs that all develop from the outer layer of the embryo, the ectoderm, through a series of coordinated and reciprocal interactions between the embryonic ectoderm and underlying dermal layer. This class of organs includes, sweat glands, hairs, mammary glands, teeth and nails. A largely shared set of genetic pathways initiate and control the development of this organ class.


The relationship between the work performed to move a certain distance to the energy cost of transport.

Endothelia PAS Domain Protein 1 (EPAS1) gene

A protein encoding gene for EPAS1. This gene is implicated in high altitude adaptation in humans, specifically in Tibetan populations that admixed with Denisovan archaic hominins and inherited this advantageous gene variant.

Endothelia PAS Domain Protein 1 (EPAS1) protein

A transcription factor involved in the response to changes in oxygen concentration, such as hypoxia, through the induction of oxygen regulated genes.

Endothelial cells

The cell type that forms the interior lining of blood and lymphatic vessels, and controls the transfer of materials, including white blood cells, into and out of the bloodstream.


Proteins that catalyze chemical reactions inside and outside cells.


An estrogen steroid hormone and the major female sex hormone that is involved in the regulation of reproductive cycles, the development of female secondary sexual characteristics, the development and maintenance of female reproductive tissues, and has important effects on bone, fat, skin, liver, and the brain. Estradiol also has important roles in males, but is produced in much lower levels.


The category of sex hormones that includes estrone, estradiol, and estriol that are involved in the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics.

Evolutionary neuroscience

The study of the evolution and natural history of nervous system structure, functions, and emergent properties.

Evolutionary psychology

A theoretical approach to psychology that seeks evolutionary connections to human psychological traits such as cognition and language.


Sequences at a locus that encode parts of a protein.


The point in time when a foot (or hand in the forelimb) first touches the ground.

Footfall sequence

The distribution of footsteps, relative to one another; some gaits may be defined by footfall sequence.

Fore limb

The front limbs and feet of a quadrupedal animal (also, the upper limbs/arms of a human).


How a person or animal moves; different categories of movement are different gaits (e.g. a run vs. a walk, a trot vs. a gallop).


A DNA sequence which encodes a specific function.

Genetic variant

A version of a DNA sequence that differs from others found at the same locus. For example, the difference can consist in a single base pair (as in single nucleotide polymorphisms, SNP) or in the deletion/insertion of a DNA base(s). See: indel.


The totality of DNA in a cell. Also refers to the DNA sequence that typifies an individual or species.


One of the four classes of major biomolecules. Glycans consist of varying numbers of sugars (monosaccharides) attached to proteins or lipids or secreted as free glycans. Glycans are essential biomolecules whose functions can be divided into three broad categories: structural and modulatory properties (including nutrient storage and sequestration), specific recognition by other molecules, and molecular mimicry of host glycans.

Great apes

A taxonomic family denoting the extant chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. This is biologically invalid grouping given that chimpanzees and bonobos are more closely related to humans.

Hind limb

The back limbs and feet of a quadrupedal animal (also, the lower limbs/legs of a human).

Hippocampus (Brain)

A part of the limbic system that plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation. Humans and other vertebrates have two hippocampi, one in each side of the brain. It is named after its resemblance to the shape of a sea horse (hippocampus in Latin).


A classification of species comprising humans and our extinct relatives following the divergence from the common ancestor with chimpanzees.


The genus that comprises the species Homo sapiens, as well as several extinct species classified as ancestral to, or closely related to, humans.


A signaling molecule in multicellular organisms that contributes to the regulation of physiology and behavior.


An enzyme involved in the first step of aerobic oxidation of organic compounds.


A condition characterized by less than the normal amount of oxygen reaching the tissues; also, low partial pressure of oxygen at high elevations (hypobaric hypoxia).


An insertion or deletion of a DNA sequence.


A description of the motion of objects; how the limbs and joints, or combinations of these bodies, move during a particular type of locomotion.


A description of the forces acting on a body; the forces the body exerts (or resists) during locomotion.


One of the four classes of major biomolecules. A fatty or waxy organic compound involved in important cellular activities like storing energy, as a component of the cell membrane, and signaling within and between other cells.


Movement causing a person or animal to get from point A to point B.


A unique physical position on a chromosome.

Lymphatic vessels

Thin-walled vessels (tubes) of the lymphatic system that are complementary to the cardiovascular system and are devoted to the movement of lymphatic fluid.

Metabolic rate

The rate at which fuels (such as sugars or fats) are broken down for the production of cellular energy.


The conversion of food into energy and the chemical building blocks for proteins, lipids, nucleic acids, and glycans as well as the elimination of metabolic wastes.


Membrane-bound cell organelles that generate most of the chemical energy, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), needed to power the cell’s biochemical reactions. Mitochondria are believed to be endosymbionts that were originally prokaryotic cells that became incorporated into eukaryotic organisms.

Morphology (Biology)

The shape or form (outward appearance) of an organism. The branch of biology interested in the form and structure of organisms and their specific structural features.

N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac)

The most common sialic acid in most vertebrates and was first discovered in animal saliva and brains.

N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc)

A common variant of sialic acid in many vertebrates that is not made by humans but can be incorporated from diets rich in red meat.


An extinct Eurasian hominin species that existed from 500-30 kya and interbred with ancient humans and Denisovans.


The process by which neural stem cells produce neurons.


The ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections through growth and reorganization. These changes include new neural connections and cortical remapping resulting from learning, environmental influences, practice, and psychological stress.

Nucleic acid

One of the four classes of major biomolecules. The overall name for DNA and RNA, which are composed of nucleotides. DNA is double-stranded and more stable while RNA is single-stranded and less stable.


Molecular building blocks for DNA and RNA Specifically, they consist of three components: a 5-carbon sugar, a phosphate group, and a nitrogenous base. The type of sugar, either deoxyribose or ribose, determines if the resulting nucleic acid is DNA or RNA.

Physiological trade-off

A compromise between different physiological needs of body functions.


The product of work and speed (velocity).


The scientific discipline involving the study of living and extinct primates (monkeys and apes), especially their evolution and behavior. Modern primatology consists of Western and Japanese traditions that developed simultaneously but independently in the 1950s.


A steroid and sex hormone involved in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and embryogenesis of invertebrates and mammals.


One of the four classes of major biomolecules. Proteins are molecules encoded by DNA sequences and composed of amino acids connected by peptide bonds. These range in size from a few amino acids (short peptides) to large molecules (long polypeptides) comprised of thousands of amino acids.

Regulatory elements

Binding sites on chromosomes for transcription factors, which are involved in gene regulation.

Ribonucleic acid (RNA)

A molecule essential in gene coding, decoding, regulation, and expression. RNA consists of sequences of the four nucleotide bases: Adenine, Uracil, Guanine, and Cytosine. Types of RNA include messenger RNA (mRNA), transfer RNA (tRNA), ribosomal RNA (rRNA), small nuclear RNA (snRNA), and other non-coding RNAs. Some viruses including Influenza A and SARS-CoV-2 have RNA genomes.

Selective sweep

The process through which a new beneficial mutation increases in frequency within a population due to its positive effect on survival and reproduction; this process leads to a reduction in genetic variation among neighboring nucleotide sequences.

Sex hormone

Steroid hormones, such as androgens, estrogens, and progestogens, that interact with steroid hormone receptors.

Sexual dimorphism

The difference in anatomical and physiological characteristics between the sexes of a species, such as body size, weight, and pigmentation.

Sexual selection theory

The selection of and competition for a reproductive partner. Inter-sexual mate selection of the opposite sex is contrasted with intra-sexual competition with same sex members for opposite sex mates.

Sialic acids

Family of acidic sugars with a nine-carbon backbone. They are found at the outermost fringes of the sugar chains (glycans) that cover all vertebrate cells. The two most common sialic acids in mammals are N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac) and N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc).

Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP)

A variation involving a single base-pair, occurring in at least 1% of the population.


A population whose individuals can mate with one another to produce viable and fertile offspring. This is a debated definition and the concept is problematic for extinct fossil organisms for which DNA is not available. This definition is problematic in regard to bacteria as they can exchange genetic material across widely separate taxa.


A biological compound manufactured by plants, animals, and fungi that functions as either important components of cell membranes or as signalling molecules.

Stride length

The distance between two subsequent footfalls.

Transcription factors

Proteins that initiate and regulate the transcription of genes. Transcription factors bind to specific sequences of DNA called regulatory elements, or other proteins that do so, and directly or indirectly affect the initiation of transcription. The activities of transcription factors determine where and when genes are expressed.

VO2 max

The maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during exercise of increasing intensity.

White blood cells (WBCs)

A type of immune cell involved in protecting the body against infectious disease and foreign invaders. WBCs are also called leukocytes.


The product of force and displacement (distance).