CARTA Glossary

Displaying 1 - 100 of 171 defined words for "Comparative Anthropogeny: From Molecules to Societies". To see all CARTA defined words, please view the complete glossary.

Word Definition Related Vocabulary
"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

ABO blood groups

The blood group system particular to primates that denotes the presence or absence of A,B, and O antigens on erythrocytes (red blood cells). The ABO gene encodes an enzyme responsible for producing A or B antigens, or an inactive enzyme resulting in the presences of O antigens. It is theorized that ABO and other blood groups provide protective diversity within populations to combat microbial invasion and has been maintained for millions of years. In humans, ABO is the major blood group for determining transfusion compatibility.

Age at maturity

The age at first reproduction. In modern hunter gatherers, this is roughly at 18 years old.

Agglutination (hemagglutination)

The clumping of cells due to the interaction of antibodies (or other proteins) and specific molecules on the surface of cells.

Aggressive scavenging

Seizure of prey from initial predators while the latter are still feeding.


Alternative DNA sequence at the same locus (location on the chromosome).


Chromosomes that determine sex (XY, with Y-Chromosome inherited paternally).

Alu elements

A type of primate-specific transposable element, or “jumping gene,” that is roughly 300 base pairs long and exists in large copy number across all chromosomes of primate genomes (over 1 million copies in the human genome). Alu elements are also called Short Interspersed Elements (SINEs). They lack the ability to copy and paste themselves directly, but are able to “hitchhike” via the activity of Long Interspersed Elements (LINEs) that have retained the ability to copy and paste. Alu elements were considered to be a part of what has been called “junk DNA” because they do not code for the production of proteins, however they may serve some yet unknown function and definitely contribute to genomic plasticity, evolution, and disease.

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.


A glycoprotein formed by immune cells (B-cells) that specifically recognize certain molecules (antigens) to neutralize pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. They exist in pentameric form (IgM), dimeric form (IgA) or single form (IgG, IgE, IgD), which consist of Y-shaped units that each have two antigen-binding pockets on one side and a region recognized by immune cells on the opposite. The tips of the “Y” can recognize specific antigens and lead to a successful immune response, while the bottom of the “y” regulates immune cell responses. Also known as immunoglobulin.


A molecule or molecular structure that can trigger an immune response and can be specifically recognized by an antibody.

Antiserum (plural: antisera)

Blood serum that contains antibodies and is used via transfusion to impart immunity.


A basal hominin genus dating between 4.0-4.4 mya. Ardipithecus is distinguished by primitive feet featuring a divergent big toe contrasted against its other bipedal anatomy. The life history of Ardipithecus is thought to have been similar to that of modern chimpanzees with age at first reproduction between 10-12 years, an inter-birth interval of 4-5 years, and a maximum longevity of 50 years. Only two Ardipithecus fossils have been described thus far, Ardipithecus ramidus and Ardipithecus kadabba, both found in Ethiopia.

Axon (nerve fiber)

In invertebrates, a long, slender projection of a neuron that transmits information (as electrical impulses) to different neurons, muscles, and glands.

B-cell receptors (BCRs)

Immunoglobulin molecules that form a receptor protein on the outer surface of B-cells. BCRs allow the B-cell to bind to a specific antigen, against which it will initiate an antibody response. BCRs also control B-cell activation by biochemical signaling and by physical acquisition of antigens from immune synapses with antigen-presenting cells.

B-cells (B lymphocyte)

A type of white blood cell whose function in the adaptive immune system is to secrete antibodies. Additionally, B-cells present antigens and secrete cytokines. In mammals, B-cells mature in the bone marrow. B-cells express B-cell receptors on their cell membrane, which allow the B-cell to bind to a specific antigen, against which it will initiate an antibody response. These cells can create an almost infinite repertoire through recombination and shuffling.


A type of prokaryotic microorganism. Unlike eukaryotes, bacterial cells do not contain a nucleus and rarely harbour membrane-bound organelles. Bacteria were among the first life forms to evolve on Earth, and can be found in most every habitat, including soil, water, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, the deep biosphere of the earth’s crust, and in and on other living organisms as symbionts and parasites. Bacteria can be beneficial, such as those comprising the gut flora, or pathogenic and cause infectious disease. However, the vast majority of the bacteria in the body are rendered harmless by the protective effects of the immune system.

Balanced polymorphism

The maintenance of a genetic polymorphism generated by balancing selection. The MHC system and ABO in humans are examples.

Balancing selection

The selection favoring rare variants for a gene preventing fixation of one particular variant.

Biological enculturation

The ensemble of biological phenomena that supports and makes enculturation possible (e.g., cortical plasticity of the human brain and configuration of motor programs that make culturally invented practices, such as reading and writing, possible).

Biologically evolved preconditions (BEPs)

The necessary conditions for the manifestation of a behavioral or cognitive ability which, although having evolved via natural selection, do not constitute precursors of such abilities (e.g., human balance mechanisms are BEPs for learning how to snowboard, but they are not precursors or proto-forms of it).

Blood group

The system comprising the totality of antigens on erythrocytes, endothelial and other cells types, secreted molecules in blood and bodily secretions. (This is why they are also known as histo-blood groups - histo being Greek for “tissue”)

Blood type

The specific pattern of reaction to antisera within a blood group.

Bonobos (Pan paniscus)

One of the two species comprising the genus, Pan, having branched from chimpanzees ~1 million years ago. Sometimes referred to as “pygmy chimpanzee.” Bonobos, compared to chimpanzees, are more gracile, have female social dominance, relatively long legs, pink lips, a dark face, a “tail-tuft” through adulthood, and parted long head hair. The species is omnivorous and inhabits primary and secondary forests, including seasonally inundated swamp forests. The bonobo is found in a 500,000 km2 (190,000 sq mi) area of the Congo Basin, only south of the Congo River, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Due to political instability, little field work in their natural habitat has been performed. Most behavioral knowledge is a result of studies of captive bonobos.

Broca’s Area

A region in the frontal lobe of the dominant hemisphere (usually the left) of the human brain with functions linked to speech production.

CD33 (Siglec-3)

A Siglec that functions as a transmembrane receptor on myeloid cells and some lymphoid cells.

CD33-related Siglecs

A subclass of Siglec receptors that rapidly evolved in humans and do not have true orthologues (counterparts identical by descent) in most mammalian species. For the CD33rSiglecs, it has been more difficult to translate studies in animal models to human conditions.

Central nervous system (CNS)

The majority of the nervous system that consists of the brain, spinal cord, retina, optic nerves, and olfactory epithelium. The CNS integrates sensory information and coordinates and influences the activity of the body in bilaterally symmetric animals (all multicellular animals except sponges and radially symmetric animals such as jellyfish).

Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)

One of the two species comprising the genus, Pan, having branched from bonobos ~1 million years ago. Sometimes referred to as “common chimpanzees”. Native to sub-Saharan Africa, chimpanzees are found in and around the Congo Basin (north of the Congo River) and throughout West Africa. Chimpanzees are divided into four subspecies, based on appearance and distribution. Compared to bonobos, chimpanzees are somewhat larger, more aggressive, and exhibit male social dominance.


The green pigment that captures light energy and is essential for photosynthesis in cyanobacteria, algae, and plants.


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


Discrete strands of tightly packaged chromatin.

Cis (molecular interactions)

Receptors expressed on a cell surface that bind ligands on the same cell surface.

Coalitionary aggression

At least two or more individuals jointly direct aggression at one or more conspecific targets. In humans coalitionary aggression is socially organized.

Coalitionary violence

Collective violence or violence between groups of individuals.

Codominant inheritance

A form of genomic inheritance in which both inherited alleles (one from each parent) are expressed and contribute to the phenotype.

Communicable (disease)

An illness that is transmittable from an infected person or animal to another person or animal through direct contact or indirectly via contaminated food, water, or a vector.

Cooperative Breeding

A social system in which parents and other individuals within the group provide care for offspring.

Copy number variation (CNV)

A phenomenon in which sections of the genome are repeated on the same or different chromosome and the number of repeats in the genome varies between individuals in the human population.  Such repeats can include functional genes.


A broad and loose category of small proteins secreted by certain cells of the immune system and are important in cell signaling and have an effect on other cells.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)

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

Digestive system

The organs of the body that are involved in the breakdown and absorption of food, and elimination of wastes. This includes the mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and accessory digestive organs such as the salivary glands, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.

DNA sequence

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


The outermost of the three primary germ layers formed in embryonic development and develops into the nervous system and skin.


The development of an embryo after fertilization of an egg cell.


The gradual acquisition of cultural traits (the characteristics and norms of a culture or group) by an individual or another culture.


The innermost of the three primary germ layers formed in embryonic development and develops into some of the body’s internal organs, including the gastrointestinal tract, the urinary tract, the respiratory tract, endocrine glands, and the auditory system.

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.

Enveloped viruses

Viruses that possess an outer lipid membrane formed by cell membrane of the host cells from which the virus buds. The envelope protects the virus as it travels between hosts and cells.

Epithelial cells

The cell type that lines the surfaces of the body, including skin, mucus membranes (airways, gastrointestinal tract, reproductive tract), urinary tract, and organs to provide protection.

Erythrocytes (red blood cells - RBCs)

The most common type of blood cell and the vertebrate’s principal means of oxygen delivery from lungs or gills to all tissues of the body. Erythrocytes of most mammals do not contain a nucleus with chromosomes.


Organisms whose cells have a nucleus enclosed within membranes.


A type of extracellular vesicle that contain constituents (protein, DNA, and RNA) of the cells that secrete them. They are taken up by distant cells, where they can affect cell function and behavior.

Extracellular matrix

The structural network of enzymes, glycoproteins, and collagen that support surrounding cells.

Female- vs. male -biased fertile sex ratios

The relative numbers of individuals capable of having children. In female-biased situations, males face less competition for mating opportunities. In male-biased situations, these opportunities are lower, thus greater male-male competition for each one.

Foregut fermentation

A digestive process in which plant materials are fermented in a specialized combination of stomach compartments together called the reticulorumen. In ruminants, the fermented cud of the reticulorumen is regurgitated and chewed again to further break down the plant material, a process called rumination. After rumination, the food is finally digested in other stomach compartments, the omasum and abomsum (true stomach). Foregut fermentation also exists in some species that do not ruminate, such as leaf monkeys.


A DNA sequence which encodes a specific function.

Gene conversion

A type of concerted evolution where one gene on a chromosome can “paste” its sequence over a neighboring gene of high sequence similarity such that the sequences become identical after the conversion event. This phenomenon is common between similar genes located on the same chromosome region.


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

Glia (aka Neuroglia)

Non-neuronal cells in the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system that do not produce electrical impulses. Their function is to ensure homeostasis, form myelin, and provide support and protection for neurons. Glia make up ~50% of our brain cells.


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.


A type of a lipid (fat) with an attached glycan that functions to maintain the stability of the cell membrane and to facilitate cellular recognition. Glycolipids are crucial in immune response and tissue formation.


A class of proteins with covalently attached glycans. Glycoproteins play a part in important cellular functions like embryonic development, cell-to-cell recognition, cell adhesion, and immune functions.


Proteins with enzymatic functions that are involved in adding monosaccharides to other molecules.

Grandmother hypothesis

An explanation of the post- menopausal life stage of human females whereby the existence of grandmothers serves as a biological and social adaptive advantage for humans. Post-reproductive life stages are non-existent among non-human primates, so it is hypothesized that humans evolved to have grandmothers and grandmothering to have individuals who are free to invest their energy into the offspring of their children. This off-loads the reproductive cost of parenting through social kin-networking, and off-set the resource cost of brain- building as parents are freed to provision resources. Increased resource procurement may reduce the inter-birth interval by allowing for earlier weening, which in turn increases offspring production potential, passes down generational knowledge, and increase social networks. In doing so, the grandmother ensures the survival of her genes in subsequent generations. The extended post-reproduction life stage of grandmothers likely had the added output of producing grandfathers, who also provide benefits to the extended family, as well as their own extended reproductive time line that competes with subsequent generations.

HapMap collection

A map of informative subsets of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) found along a stretch of a chromosome used to identify blocks of genetic variation existing along human chromosomes.

Hematopoietic stem cells

Stem cells that can become different types of blood cells.

Hindgut fermentation

A digestive process in which cellulose and other polysaccharides are broken down by symbiotic bacteria residing the colon of some mammalian species.

Histo-blood groups

Meaning “tissue-related”, these blood group antigens originally evolved on epithelial cells prior to expression on erythrocytes (red blood cells). ABO is a classic example of a histo-blood group.


The state of steady internal, physical, and chemical conditions maintained by living organisms.


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


A living organism on or in which a parasite, pathogen, commensal or symbiont lives (see Parasitism).

Human Arcuate Fasciculus

The specialized connections composed of axons linking Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area in the human brain and is a major anatomic feature supporting language function in humans.

Hunting and gathering

A subsistence strategy in which most or all food is obtained by foraging and is in contrast to agriculture, which rely mainly on domesticated species.

Hunting hypothesis

The idea that hunting of large game by males provided sufficient provisions for themselves, their mates and offspring, while allowing for the reduction of female workloads, enhancement of fertility, and favoring of the later ages at maturity needed to learn and perfect essential skills. But modern data show that large animal prey would not have provided the reliable energy stream the argument requires.

I-type lectins

A class of lectins belonging to the immunoglobulin superfamily. e.g., Siglecs


Behavior copying. This term has been used to mean everything from social learning in general to the reproduction of action intentions but is now most commonly used in the narrow sense of copying the form or topography of observed movements.

Immune system

The biological defense system of an organism that protects against disease.

Immunoglobulin domain/fold (Ig)

A type of region (domain) present in many different proteins that is self-stabilizing and folds independently.


A type of protein that forms antibodies and other receptors both on cell surfaces and as soluble proteins of vertebrates. Comprised of a massive superfamily, immunoglobulins perform many different functions, including recognition, binding, or adhesion processes of cells.

Immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motif (ITAM)

A highly conserved region in the cytoplasmic domain of signaling chains of adapter proteins and receptors and typically result in activation of inflammatory responses.

Immunoreceptor tyrosine-based inhibitory motif (ITIM)

A conserved sequence of amino acids, including phosphorylated tyrosine, that is found intracellularly in the cytoplasmic domains of many inhibitory receptors.


The invasion of an organism’s organs or tissues by pathogens, their multiplication, and the reaction of the host tissues to the pathogens.

Infectious (disease)

The capability of producing infection or spreading disease to others. Synonymous with communicable and transmissible.

Inter-birth intervals

The time span between live births.

Interactive synchrony

Temporal coordination of behavior, physiology, neural activity, and/or mental representations between individuals.

Internal model

A simulation of a system’s response to events or states. In motor control, forward models use motor commands to predict sensory consequences whereas inverse models use intended sensory consequences to generate appropriate motor commands.

Large quantity discrimination (LQD)

The rough discrimination of collections of discrete items above the subitizing range, whose numerosities usually differ by a substantial amount.


A protein that can bind to a glycan without catalyzing a modification of the glycan.

Lexical semantics

Word meanings.


A molecule specifically recognized by another molecule and involved in specific interactions.

LINE1 Retrotransposons

Long interspersed nuclear elements class 1 (LINE1) is a type of transposable element, or “jumping gene,” that randomly copies and inserts itself into different genomic locations through reverse transcription (conversion of RNA into DNA). These active LINE1s can interrupt the genome through insertions, deletions, rearrangements, and copy number variations. LINE1 activity has contributed to the instability and evolution of genomes. As such, they are tightly regulated in the germline, however, they are controlled differently in apes and humans. LINE1 retrotransposons make up to ~17% of the human genome. While the majority are inactive in the human genome, there are roughly 80-100 that have retained the ability to retrotranspose with considerable variation between individuals.


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.

Locus (pl. loci)

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.


Specialized immune cells involved in the detection, phagocytosis and destruction of bacteria and other harmful organisms. In addition, they can also present antigens to T cells and initiate inflammation by releasing molecules.

Major histocompatibility complex (MHC)

A set of closely linked polymorphic genes that code for cell surface proteins (MHC molecules) that assist the adaptive immune system in detection of foreign molecules.

Malignant neoplasm

A cancerous growth capable of invading normal tissues and growing in otherwise hostile environments.

Mate guarding (humans)

The retention of exclusive reproductive access to a mate by attempting to restrict the access of others and discouraging the mate from seeking other sexual opportunities.


An inflammation (swelling) of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.