CARTA Glossary

Displaying 1 - 100 of 577 defined words
Word Definition Related Vocabulary
"Archaic" Homo sapiens

Earlier forms of Homo sapiens who were anatomically and behaviorally distinct from modern humans.

"Mating Success" Hypothesis

In relation to hunting, a hypothesis that has been documented or proposed for humans, some earlier hominins, and chimpanzees that the tactical sharing of meat develops and maintains social bonds and/or increases mating success. In humans, this success is possibly amplified by an individual’s prowess or reputation.

12C/13C Isotope Ratio

12C/13C Isotope Ratio: Due to their different photosynthetic pathways, C3 and C4 plants have different ratios of 12C and 13C isotopes in their tissues. This ratio difference allows researchers to derive diet information from the fossilized tissue of animals, including human ancestors. Isotope ratios indicative of C3 plants suggest browsing from foliage while C4 isotope ratios suggest grazing.

Please note: this information does not differentiate between a diet of eating C3 and C4 plants, eating the meat of an animal that consumed those plants, or a combination of the two.

7q11.23 Duplication Syndrome A developmental disorder resulting from a duplication of approximately 25 genes on chromosome 7.

A reversible change in a biological characteristic contributing to maintaining homeostasis during exposure to an environmental stress.


Adverse childhood experiences, usually referring to the measure developed by Felitti and others (1998) for the ACE study.

Acheulean (Mode 2)

A stone tool type characterized by oval or pear-shaped bi-faced “hand axes” and are typically associated with Homo erectus. ~1.76 mya - 130 kya.


A protein that forms the internal skeleton of animal cells, including red blood cells (RBCs).

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

A serious type of respiratory failure characterized by rapid onset of widespread fluid buildup in the lungs, which limits oxygen uptake and causes shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and bluish skin coloration.

Adhesin: Proteins produced by bacteria and protozoa that mediate binding to molecules on host cells.

Malarial adhesins can be transferred to the surface of red blood cells (RBCs) causing them to become sticky and adhere to other RBCs and vessel walls, resulting in microvascular inflammation.


Evolution of a phenotype by selection because it improved reproduction and/or survival.


A pharmacological or immunological agent that modifies the effect of other agents. Adjuvants may be added to a vaccine to boost the immune response to produce more antibodies and longer-lasting immunity, thus minimizing the dose of antigen needed.


Breeding between isolated populations.


Challenging experiences that threaten function, development, or survival of an individual or system.

Aedes Mosquitos

A genus of mosquito found on all continents except Antarctica. Species in this genus are vectors for numerous viral infections, including Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, West Nile Fever, Chikungunya, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Zika virus.


Arranging related sequences by position.


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

Allele Frequency

The proportion of all alleles within a population that are a particular type.


The investment in young by individuals other than the biological parents.


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


The process of achieving stability, or homeostasis, through physiological or behavioral change.

Allostatic Load/Overload

The accumulated “wear and tear on the body,” or the physiological consequences of chronic exposure to fluctuating or heightened neural or neuroendocrine response, due to chronic stress. The term was coined by McEwen and Stellar in 1993.


A genus of RNA viruses that affect humans, rodents, fish, birds, and larger animals such as horses, and invertebrates. Transmission occurs via mosquitos. Diseases caused by Alphaviruses are numerous and include Eastern Equine Encephalitis and Chikungunya.

American Sign Language (ASL)

A natural language that serves as the predominant sign language of Deaf communities in the United States and most of Anglophone Canada.

Amino Acid

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 letter codes.


The inability to recognize musical tones or to reproduce them (tone deafness).


A roughly almond-shaped mass of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere, involved with the experiencing of emotions, including fear.

Anatomically "Modern" Humans

Humans dating to roughly 300 kya that are within range of the skeletal features of modern Homo sapiens.

Ancestral Variant

A genetic variant (e.g.: single-nucleotide polymorphism, SNP, or a larger change) representing the ancestral state and coexisting with more recent variants

Ancient DNA

DNA that is extracted from ancient specimens (skeletons, mummified tissues, frozen specimens, archeological material, archival collections, sediments, and dirt). The current upper age limit for ancient DNA extraction and sequencing is 0.4-1.5 mya.


Something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.

Anopheles Mosquitos

A genus of mosquito with ~460 species, ~100 of which can transmit malaria to humans.

Antagonistic Pleiotropy

A phenomenon whereby multiple influences of the same gene have opposite effects on the fitness of the organism


A disease spread from humans to non-human animals.


A Y-shaped glycoprotein produced by B-cells and used by the immune system to neutralize pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. 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.


A nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension.

Approach/Avoidance Model

A theoretical framework for understanding the onset of maternal behavior in species that avoid infants prior to giving birth to their own. The model was developed based on data from rats and posits that care giving behavior occurs when the tendency to approach infants is greater than the tendency to avoid them. Thus, the model indicates that two distinct processes regulate the onset of maternal care. Mother-infant bonding at birth results not only from an increase in attraction to infant cues but also from a reduction of aversion to them.

Arbitrariness (aka Symbolic Reference) A relationship between a sign and the thing it refers to (its “referent”) that is determined purely by mental association rather than by any particular physical parameters (Kluender, 2020).
Archaic Admixture

DNA from ancient, divergent, and now extinct populations found in current people.


A human-specific protein coding gene that promotes amplification of basal progenitors in the subventricular zone, producing more neurons during fetal cortical development. It has been implicated in the evolutionary expansion of the human brain neocortex.


“A material intervention in relationships between people and the stories that define those relationships” (Davidson, 2020). The expression of imagination, conceptual and symbolic ideas, and skill.

Art Theory (aka Aesthetics)

The examination of the subjective qualities of beauty and taste.


Advantages or resources associated with positive (desirable) outcomes; predictors of positive outcome; also known as promotive factors.

Association Cortex (Brain)

Extensive territories of gray matter concentrated in the parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes, the territory near the temporal pole, and the forward part of the frontal lobe. Current evidence indicates that expansion of the association cortex was a component of human brain evolution.


An archaeological site in Spain with fossils and stone tools of the earliest known hominins in Western Europe.


Build-up of cholesterol and inflammation in the lining of blood vessels.

Aurignacian (Mode 4)

A stone tool type characterized by long, fine blades produced from a prepared core (Levallois Technique). Tools of this mode also include worked bone and antler points. ~43 kya - 28 kya.


A genus of extinct hominins dating ~4 mya to 2 mya, and found primarily in eastern and southern Africa. Homo may have evolved from a late australopithecine. Australopithecine brain size is ~35% of the size of the modern human brain.  Most species were short in stature, although sexual dimorphism was pronounced. Some examples of australopithecines:

A. anamenis:  Kenya and Ethiopia. ~4 mya. 
A. afarensis: Eastern Africa. Most famous example is “Lucy.” ~3.9 mya to 2.9 mya. 
A. bahrelghazali: Central Africa.  ~3.6 mya
A. africanus: Southern Africa. ~3.3 mya to 2.1 mya.
A. garhi: Ethiopia. Possible transitional stage between Australopithecus and Homo. ~2.5 mya. 
A. boisei: East Africa. Robust australopithecine. There is debate as to which genus they belong, Australopithecus or Paranthropus. ~2.4 to 1.4 mya.
A. sediba: South Africa. Possible transitional stage between Australopithecus and Homo. ~2 mya. 


A mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts.

Autism spectrum disorder

A range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.


An account of a person’s life written by that person.


An organism’s aberrant immune response against its own healthy cells and tissues. Low-level autoimmunity is usually harmless and potentially beneficial, high-level autoimmunity can cause a broad range of deleterious illnesses known as autoimmune diseases (e.g. lupus).


All other non-allosomal chromosomes. Do not differ between the sexes.

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 (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 (BCRs) 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 and almost infinite repertoire through recombination and shuffling.

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.


The presence of bacteria in the blood, a normally sterile environment.


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.

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

A type of vaginal inflammation characterized by the presence of exfoliated epithelial cells with attached bacteria, abnormally thin mucus secretions, a sharp amine odor, vaginal pH, and overgrowth of the coccobacillus, Gardnerella vaginalis. BV seems to be part of the spectrum of normal for many women, and evidence from non-human primates seems to suggest that a diverse vaginal microbiome is the ancestral state. The condition is nevertheless associated with a wide range of reproductive health complications that endanger fertility and limit reproductive success.

Basal Ganglia (Brain)

Subcortical nuclei in the base of the forebrains of vertebrates, including humans, which are involved with a variety of functions including control of voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, routine behaviors or “habits” such as teeth grinding, eye movements, cognition, and emotion.

Basal Progenitor

A cortical neural progenitor cell which undergoes replication and division. Basal progenitor cells are a subset that lie in the subventricular zone and lack contact with the neighboring ventricle—only contacting the outer, basal, surface—and contribute to the expansion of the outer cortex.

Basal Radial Glia

A primary progenitor cell capable of generating neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes. Basal radial glia and outer radial glia are defined by their position, morphology, and genetic phenotype.


Methods in probability and statistics named after Thomas Bayes (1702-61) in which a quantity is assigned to represent a state of knowledge, or a state of belief.

Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome

An overgrowth disorder caused by an imbalance in sex-specific modification of chromosomes and characterized by higher risk of childhood cancer and certain congenital features.


The way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others.

Behaviorally Modern Humans

Current Homo sapiens, a population of hominins who evolved in Africa 200-100 kya, developed a suite of behavioral and cognitive traits that distinguished them from other hominins in and outside Africa, which likely allowed them to replace all other related hominins across the planet, with some interbreeding but no surviving hybrid species.


Pertaining to both alleles (both alternative forms of a gene).

Birch Tar (or pitch)

A material produced through the dry distillation of birch bark and used as an adhesive for hafting. Neanderthals produced birch tar as early as 200 kya. Compare with Bitumen.

Bitumen (asphaltum or tar)

A form of petroleum, a naturally- occurring organic by-product of decomposed plants, that is waterproof and flammable. Prehistoric humans used bitumen as an adhesive for hafting points to spears and for many other tasks and tools. Compare with Birch Tar.

Bonobo (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 (Brain)

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

Bucharest Early Intervention Project

A joint collaboration between researchers at Tulane University, University of Maryland, and Boston Children’s Hospital. The study, which began in the fall of 2000, seeks to examine the effects of early institutionalization on brain and behavior development, and to examine the impact of high quality foster care as an intervention for children who have been placed in institutions.

Background: Nicolae Ceausescu, general secretary of the Romanian communist party from 1965-89, instituted pro-natalist policies (banning abortion, outlawing contraception, and imposing a tax on families with fewer than five children) to increase the Romanian population in an effort to create more workers to bolster the economy. Correspondingly, the birth rate climbed but the poor were unable to afford larger families. It became acceptable to give infants and children to state-run child-rearing institutions, which spawned one of the largest per capita orphanage systems in history. By 1989, more than 170,000 Romanian children were living in institutions. Even ten years after the overthrow of Ceausescu, the rate of child abandonment did not diminish.

C3 Plants

C3 Plants: Plants that only use the Calvin-Benson Cycle for fixing CO2 from the air. Photosynthesis in these plants involves the reaction of CO2 with C5 RuBP (ribulose-1,5-biphosphate) to form two C3 phosphoglyceric acid molecules (3PGA) in the Calvin Cycle, making hexose carbohydrates. C3 plants originated during the Mesozoic and Paleozoic eras, predating C4 plants. C3 plants thrive in moderate sunlight and temperature environments. The 12C/13C ratio of C3 plants is unique and can be determined from mass spectrometry. C3 plants have more 12C compared to C4 Plants, and have less 13C in their tissue compared to what naturally occurs in the atmosphere. e.g. Herbaceous plants, cool season grasses, tree leaves, flowers, stems, and fruits.

C4 Plants

C4 Plants: Plants that use a supplementary method of CO2 uptake to form a four-carbon sugar compound. Photosynthesis in these plants involves the reaction of CO2 with C3 phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP) to form C4 oxaloacetatic acid (OAA), which is converted into malic acid. Malic acid is then broken down into CO2 (which enters the Calvin Cycle to form sugars and starch) and pyruvic acid (3-carbon molecule), which is then converted back to PEP. C4 plants are well adapted for habitats with high daytime temperatures and intense sunlight. The 12C/13C ratio of C4 plants is distinct and can be determined from masspectrometry. C4 plants have less 12C but more 13C compared to C3 Plants. The 13C in C4 tissue is still less than what naturally occurs in the atmosphere. e.g. Tropical grasses, including crabgrass, corn, sugarcane, sorghum.

Calvin-Benson Cycle

The set of chemical reactions that take place in chloroplasts of plants during photosynthesis. This light-independent process converts carbon atoms from the atmosphere into three-carbon sugars.

Canids (Canidae)

Carnivorous lineage that includes domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, jackals, dingoes, and other extant and extinct dog-like mammals.


A type of cancer that starts in cells that make up the skin or the tissue lining organs, such as the liver or kidneys. Carcinomas are abnormal cells that divide without control and can spread to other parts of the body.


An acquired or hereditary disease of heart muscle resulting in weakening, enlargement, thickening, or rigidity of the heart.

Cardiovascular Disease

Conditions of the heart that include diseased vessels, structural problems, and blood clots (sometimes used synonymously with Atherosclerosis).


An organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of animal tissue, whether through predation or scavenging.


A build-up of mucus in an airway or body cavity caused by inflammation such as that associated with respiratory illnesses.

CauCau of Chile

A young boy who had been neglected and abandoned by alcoholic parents in Chile. CauCau lived in a forest without human companionship starting around 1945 at age 7 or 9, until being “found” in 1947.

Central Aversion System

A neural circuit that regulates fearful, defensive and/or aggressive behavioral responses to aversive stimuli.

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).

Cerebral Cortex (Brain)

The outer layer of the cerebrum, composed of folded gray matter, and plays an important role in consciousness.

Cerebrum (Brain)

The largest part of the brain that contains the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, basal ganglia, and olfactory bulb.

Cetaceans (Cetacea)

A clade of aquatic mammals consisting of whales, dolphins, and porpoises.


An infection caused by the Chikungunya virus, which is spread between people by Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti mosquitos. Symptoms include fever and joint pain. Chikungunya typically occurs in Africa and Asia, but recent outbreaks have been reported in Europe and the Americas.

Chikungunya Virus (CHIKV)

A RNA virus that belongs to the genus Alphavirus that is primarily transmitted by two species of Aedes mosquitoes, although the virus can also be transmitted from mother to child during delivery. Before 2013, the virus was found only in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Indian and Pacific islands. In late 2013, outbreaks occurred for the first time in the Americas in the Caribbean Islands. Chikungunya (pronounced “chik-en-gun-ye”) comes from the Kimadonde verb meaning “bent over in pain” or “contorted.”

Chimpanzee (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.


A bacterial disease causing severe diarrhea and dehydration, usually spread in sewage-contaminated water.


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

Chromatin Accessibility

The idea that the 3D conformation of chromatin and the presence or absence of regulatory proteins (and their chemical modifications) interacting with histone proteins or directly with DNA can impact whether or not, and to what level, gene expression occurs.


Discrete strands of tightly packaged chromatin.

Chronic Mountain Sickness

A disease characterized loss of adaptation to high-altitude hypoxia. Signs include severe polycythemia (increased blood volume occupied by red blood cells) and hypoxemia (lack of oxygenation).


A group of organisms consisting of a common ancestor and all descendants on a particular lineage. Represents a single branch on the “tree of life.”


A branching diagram used to show hypothetical relations among groups of organisms and their hypothetical most common ancestors. It is not an evolutionary tree as it does not show how ancestors are related to descendants, nor does it show evolutionary distance or time.


Making a copy of an organism or sequence.
Organisms are cloned by moving an entire genome from a cell into an egg. DNA sequences are cloned by moving copies into a bacteria using a vector.

Clotting (Blood)

The process by which blood changes from liquid to a gel, forming a clot. Also known as coagulation.


Time since common ancestor.