CARTA Glossary

Displaying 1 - 100 of 378 defined words
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"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) Tools

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.


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


Breeding between isolated populations.


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


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.


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.

American Sign Language

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


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

Homo sapiens dating back to almost 200,000 years ago 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


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

Antagonistic Pleiotropy

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


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.

Archaic Admixture

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

Archaic Homo sapiens

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


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.


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


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 cone (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.


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

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 individuals act or conduct themselves, especially toward others.

Behaviorally Modern Humans

Current Homo sapiens, a population of hominins who evolved in Africa 200-100,000 years ago, 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).

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.

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.

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.

Cetaceans (Cetacea)

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

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.


Time since common ancestor.

Coalescent Theory

Models evolution backward in time to infer historical population size, mutation rate, allele age, and allele frequency change by selection and drift.


A sequence of three nucleotides along a DNA or RNA chain encoding a single amino acid, and start or stop.


The mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.

Cognitive Trade-off Hypothesis

As proposed by Tetsuro Matsuzawa, postulates that a trade-off between superior language facility at the expense of memory ability based on social life occurred during human evolution.  In comparison to chimpanzees, who possess superior short-term memory  abilities and no known language, humans de-emphasized short term memory for extraordinary language capacity, which may be one mechanism for increased collaboration and altruism in humans.

Combinatorial Phonology

A universal property of human language in which a set of basic, distinct units (phonemes, syllables, or hand shapes) can be combined in many different ways.


A relationship between organisms where one derives food or other benefits from the other without hurting or helping it.

Comparative Method

A method of evolutionary analysis that uses comparisons across independently evolved species, as a means for studying historical and physical constraints.


Capability for effective function in the environment, potential or manifested.

Complex Trait

A phenotypic trait with variability influenced by numerous genes (each with small effects).


A disease or physical abnormality present from birth.


Members of the same species.

Copy Number Variation

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.

Coronary Thrombosis

Blockage of blood flow to the heart, caused by atherosclerosis and blood clotting in a coronary artery. The most common kind of heart attack.

Cortical Fields

A segment of the cerebral cortex that carries out a given function.

Cortical-Basal Ganglia

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.

Corvids (Corvidae)

The family of stout-billed passerine birds (an order of birds characterized by an arrangement of toes with three forward and one backward to facilitate perching) including the crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws, jays, magpies, treepies, choughs, and nutcrackers.

Corvus brachyrhynchos

The American crow.


The number of reads for a given locus.

CpG site

Locus where a cytosine nucleotide is followed by guanine nucleotide in the linear sequence of bases. Cytosines in CpG dinucleotides can be methylated to form 5-methyl cytosine, a common epigenetic mark.

Cranial Neural Crest Cells Cells that become the structures of the endocranium and face.

Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. A method that can mutate a specified locus.


Behavior and norms that are shared, learned, and socially transmitted. Human culture includes language, institutions, and the creation of shared meaning.

Cumulative Cooperative Culture

In human culture, the accumulation of cultural modifications over time (“ratchet effect”) resulting from social learning, active teaching, social motivations for conformity, and normative sanctions against non-conformity.

Daughter Neuron

Resulting cell(s) formed when neural stem cells or progenitor cells undergo cellular division.

de Novo

A Latin adverb meaning "from the new." A new genetic variant that is the result of a mutation in a germ cell (egg or sperm) of one of the parents, or a variant that arises in the fertilized egg during embryogenesis.


Study of population size over time.


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

Dental Calculus

Calcified dental plaque, provides information on diet, disease, health, microbiome and protects the genetic information within the tooth from degradation.

Derived Alleles

Variants arising since last common ancestor.

Developmental Adaptation

An irreversible biological characteristic acquired during growth and development in a stressful environment.

Developmental Amnesia

A selective disorder characterized by marked impairment in episodic memory despite relatively preserved semantic memory.

Developmental Cascade

Spreading effects over time across systems or domains of function that result from interactions in dynamic systems and cumulatively alter development.

Developmental Tasks

Psychosocial milestones or accomplishments expected of people of different ages in a given cultural and historical context; Common developmental tasks include bonding with caregivers, walking, talking, learning to read, getting along with other people, and caring for one’s children.


Two sets of paired chromosomes.