CARTA Glossary

Displaying 1 - 100 of 110 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.

Agglutination (hemagglutination)

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


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


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

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 letter 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.

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.

Blood group

The system comprising the totality of antigens on erythrocytes, secreted blood molecules, and endothelial cells.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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

DNA sequence

The specific order of the nucleotide bases Adenine, Thymine, Guanine, and Cytosine.

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.

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. (see Prokaryotes)


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. 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.

HapMap collection

Map of informative subsets of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) used to identify blocks of genetic variation existing along human chromosomes.

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 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.

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 inhibitory motif (ITIM)

A sequence of amino acids including phosphorylated tyrosine found in the intra cellular part of transmembrane proteins that are involved in cell signalling.


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.


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 alterations can cause genomic destabilization, drive changes in gene expression, introduce disease, or are silent. As such, they are tightly regulated in the germline, however, they are controlled differently in apes and humans. LINE1 retrotransposons make up to ~21% of the human genome.


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.


From Greek for “large” and “to eat,” macrophages are specialized white blood cells that detect and destroy microorganisms and dead cells in the body.

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.


A type of glia that functions as “immune cells” of the central nervous system and are involved in brain development and maintenance. These cells are not of neuronal origin but rather migrate from the yolk sac to the brain during embryogenesis.


A group of two or more atoms bonded together to form the smallest fundamental unit of a chemical compound that can take part in a chemical reaction.


A simple sugar; the most basic unit of a carbohydrate.

Myelin Sheaths

Sleeves of fatty tissue (wrapped cell membrane) that protect nerve cells.

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.

Natural Antibodies (NAb)

A type of antibody that exists in the absence of active immunization via infection and/or contact with fetal antigens during pregnancy as a first line of defense until a specific antibody response is mounted.


A specialized cell that transmits nerve impulses.

Nucleic acid

One of the four classes of major biomolecules. The overall name for DNA and RNA, which are composed of nucleotides.


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.

Paired receptors

Related membrane proteins that have similar extracellular appearance but opposite signaling functions and are found in pairs or clusters primarily on immune cells.


An organism that lives on or in a host organism at the expense of the host.

Parasitism (Biology)

A close relationship between two organisms where one benefits at the expense of the other.


A bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease.


Observable traits of an organism that result from interactions between genes and environment during development.


The sound patterns of language.

Phytanic Acid

A branched chain fatty acid produced during the digestion of chlorophyll, especially in foregut (ruminants) fermenting species (ruminants) that consume plant materials. Humans obtain phytanic acid by consuming dairy products, ruminant animals, and some fish.

Phytanic Acid Metabolism (in humans)

Eating ruminants (red meat and dairy) creates special demands on detoxifying metabolism as phytanic acid (lipids) from plants eaten by ruminants can be toxic to humans.


The “many forms,” or genetic variants, of a single gene that exist and are maintained in a population at a frequency of 1% or higher.


A type of abnormal, pathogenic protein that can cause other, normal, proteins to similarly misfold. Prions are involved in many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE(), also known as “mad cow disease.”


Unicellular organisms that lack a membrane- bound nucleus, mitochondria, or any other membrane-bound organelle. (see Eukaryotes)


A gene that has lost its function. Some pseudogenes may be translated into a protein, but typically the protein is inactive.

Recessive allele

A genetic variant that only has a phenotypic effect if it is present in two copies, except on most of an X-chromosome where a single copy is expressed when paired with a Y-chromosome as much of the Y does not correspond to the X and lacks X-linked genes.

Ribonucleic Acid (RNA)

A molecule essential in gene coding, decoding, regulation, and expression. 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.

Rogue protein

Misfolded proteins that cause damage, particularly resulting in neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and mad cow disease. The abnormal shape of these proteins can be triggered by another type of protein, called a prion.

Self-associated molecular patterns (SAMPS)

A class of molecular patterns that signal intrinsic inhibitory receptors of immune cells to remain in or return to their baseline, non-activated state.

Serum (blood)

The fluid, or plasma, constituent of blood and does not contain clotting proteins.

Sialic acid

Acidic sugar molecules prominently 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).

Sialic acid-binding immunoglobulin-type lectins (Siglec)

Cell-surface proteins that bind sialic acid. They are primarily found on immune cell surfaces.

Siglec chimera

The extra-cellular, sialic acid binding portion of a Siglec protein fused to another protein domain and transgenically expressed in a cell line. They are used to study Siglec binding.


An innate immune receptor expressed uniquely in human brain microglia cells.

Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP)

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


An organism that lives in a symbiosis providing benefits to its host.


A close and long-term biological interaction between two different biological organisms, be it mutualistic, commensalistic, or parasitic.


The arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.

Trans (molecular interactions)

Receptors expressed on a cell surface that bind ligands on a different cell surface or between a cell surface and an extra-cellular molecule.

Transmembrane protein

A type of cell membrane protein that spans the width of the membrane and functions as a gateway for specific substances to enter or leave the cell or as a signaling molecule.