Glossary

Accreditation
The process in which a business is reviewed to make sure it is functioning at a level set by respected industry or state organizations. A business may seek and receive accreditation from several accrediting bodies.
Admixture
A genetic mixture that results when two previously isolated populations begin breeding with one another, resulting in the introduction of new genetic lineages to the population.
Agricultural Revolution
The transition from the pre-agricultural period of the Paleolithic period where people hunted and gathered food, into an agricultural lifestyle in which people ate a diet of cultivated foods. Social changes accompanied the change in food production; populations settled in one place to grow crops with the formation of permanent settlements, and changes in culture arose as a result.
Alleles
Different versions of the same gene. Alleles are the ‘genetic switches’ that determine characteristics such as eye color, hair color and height. The chromosomes in a pair carry the same gene in the same places but there may be different versions of the same gene. For any gene, a person may have any combination of two possible alleles - for example they may have two alleles for brown eye color, or one brown one and one blue one.
Ancestral
Something inherited from a person’s ancestors. In genetics ‘ancestral’ refers to an inherited characteristic, such as physical appearance as well as certain physical and mental health conditions. Ancestral DNA can be used to find out about a person’s genetic heritage.
Ancestor/Ancestry
A person from whom another is directly descended, typically someone more distant than a grandparent. Your ancestry collectively describes your ancestors.
Ancestry DNA Test
A genetic test that makes use of your DNA information to make inferences about your ancestry hundreds or thousands of years into the past.
Anthropoid
The group of higher primates that resemble man, including monkeys, apes and humans.
Anthropology
The study of human societies and cultures, as well as human origins. Anthropology often overlaps with a number of different fields of study including genetics, history and sociology. Archaeology is often used synonymously with anthropology and can be thought of as a specialist branch of anthropology that investigates human history and prehistory through the excavation and study of physical remains left behind by human populations.
Austronesian
The societies and people from the central and South Pacific islands, including Indonesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
Autosomal DNA
The DNA found in the autosomes - the 22 chromosomes that do not determine sex. The autosomes carry 90% of your DNA and can be inherited from any of your thousands of ancestors through the ages. The GPS OriginsTM test analyzes your autosomal markers (SNPs) and compares them with the distinctive SNPs in the DNA signatures of 500 reference populations to pinpoint the place and time where your DNA last changed at a population level.
Base Pair
A chemical thread in the DNA, formed by a pair of nitrogenous or ‘base’ chemicals, which makes up the rungs on the DNA ‘ladder’. Each strand of DNA is made up four different base chemicals: adenosine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (T). These chemicals always pair in the same way: A always pairs with T, and C always pairs with T. The hHuman DNA has about 3 billion bases.
Buccal Swab
A swab taken from the cheek by rubbing the inside of the mouth with a large cotton bud to collect loose cells. Buccal swabbing is a common method of collecting DNA cells for analysis.
Chromosome
A thread l-like structure made up of nucleic acids and protein, which is found in the nucleus of an animal or plant cells and which carries the genes. There are 23 pairs of chromosomes in each cell of the human body. Chromosomes are inherited from the parent - 23 from the mother and 23 from the father. The 23rd chromosome determines sex - XX for females and XY for males.
Denisovians
An extinct group of human relatives, named after the Denisovia Cave in Siberia where fossils were discovered in 2008. DNA extracted from the fossils revealed that they and the Neanderthals shared the same origins but were genetically distinct from one another - as much as modern humans were from Neanderthals.
DNA
A long twisted ‘helix’ molecule made of deoxyribonucleic acid that holds the body’s unique genetic code. It is made up of four proteins: adenosine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (T), which form base pairs and which are the basic building blocks of the DNA. The order of these base pairs forms the instructions in the genome. DNA is found in the nucleus of a cell as well as its mitochondria (mtDNA). The nuclear DNA is composed of information inherited from both parents, while the mtDNA in male and female humans is inherited solely from the mother. DNA can be used to determine parentage, as well as a wide range of other information. mtDNA is used to look at the maternal bloodline.
Ethnicity
An ethnic group is a group that has shared characteristics such as culture, language, religion and traditions, and sees itself or is seen by others as a distinct community. It is not necessarily genetic and definitions of what is a distinct ethnicity may vary from place to place.
Family History
The study of how your ancestors lived. The term ‘family history’ is often used interchangeably with ‘genealogy’ but is a much broader exploration of your ancestors’ lives. It encompasses genealogy in that you need to study your ancestral lineage but also considers social history, looking at the area in which your ancestors lived, the jobs they did, what their homes were like and other factors that may have affected their life.
Fossil Record
The chronicle of plant and animal life as documented by fossils, the impression or remains of organisms preserved in sedimentary deposits.
Gene
A gene is the basic unit of information - formed of a distinct sequence of DNA - that determines what characteristics every living creature has. Genes are found on the chromosomes and are inherited from both parents.
Gene Pool
Also referred to as Ancestral Origin, is the collective set of genetic information within a distinct population which does not breed with others from outside of the group. So far, 36 human gene pools around the world have been identified with each human population made up of a mixture of these gene pools. In the distant past genetic mixing tended to occur when large groups of people moved from one area to another, through invasion or mass migration. The GPS Origins™ test pinpoints the origin of your DNA by comparing it to the signature mixes in different populations.
Genealogy
The study of a person’s family tree or line of descent. Genealogy uses the written record (birth, marriage, tax and death records), stories passed down through families and increasingly genetic testing.
Genetic Markers
Points of variation in DNA that scientists use to decode and interpret information about the source of the DNA. Genetic markers are ‘bookmarks’, which allow scientists to quickly find out about the genetic characteristics associated with the marker’s location (locus) on the DNA strand.
Genetic Mutation
A permanent change in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene. Mutations can range in size from a single DNA base to a large segment of a chromosome. Genetic mutations can be inherited from a parent or acquired during a person's lifetime. Some genetic changes are very rare while others are common. Genetic changes that occur in more than 1 percent of the population are called polymorphisms. They are common enough to be considered a normal variation in the DNA. Polymorphisms are responsible for many normal differences between people such as eye color, hair color, and blood type.
Genome
An individual’s genetic blueprint - the complete set of genetic instructions needed to make that individual. Every cell with a nucleus contains a complete copy of the genome.
Geogenetics
The science of making connections between an individual and distinct groups of people in different locations across the world. The genetic characteristics of an individual are compared to the genetic characteristics of various groups to work out possibilities in geographical migration and ethnic descent. Ancestral DNA tests can be used to discover geogenetic links.
Homo Erectus
An extinct species that is perhaps an ancestor of modern humans, thought to have lived from 1.9 million to 70,000 years ago. The species is thought to have originally come from Africa and then spread out across Eurasia as far as Georgia, India, Sri Lanka, China and Indonesia - although some theories suggest that the species came from Eurasia. ‘Upright man’ was the first hominin species to control fire, around 1 million years ago. The species had a smaller brain and larger teeth than in modern humans
Homo Habilis
AA hominin species that lived in eastern and southern Africa 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago. They were distinguished from earlier hominins by a larger brain and small teeth, though they still had long arms and an ape-like appearance. Homo habilis translates as ‘handy man’ and the species had the ability to use crude stone tools, which were used to scavenge food. Scientists led by Louis and Mary Leakey uncovered the fossilized remains of Homo habilis between 1960 and 1963 at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.
Homo Sapiens
The modern human species to which all humans belong. Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago. Homo sapiens can be distinguished from earlier human species by a more lightly built skeleton, and a high-vaulted skull with an almost vertical forehead, evolved to accommodate the much larger brain. Modern humans also have less heavily developed jaws with smaller teeth and less pronounced brow ridges.
Ice Age
A period in which the temperature of Earth's surface and atmosphere drops and causes continental and polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers to expand. The term is also used commonly to describe the series of glacial episodes that began at the start of the Pleistocene epoch 2.6 million years ago. Scientists believe there were several Ice Ages.
Iron Age
The era in which human populations began to mine and make iron tools. The exact dates for this period vary in different areas, depending on the introduction of iron technology. For example the Iron Age in Britain covers the period from about 800BC to the Roman Invasion of 43AD, whereas in the Near East the Iron Age is thought to have begun as early as 1200 to 1000BC.
Indigenous Peoples
The people who are considered to be the original inhabitants of a geographical location. The indigenous people of a specific region are likely to have some shared physical characteristics as well as a shared written or oral history and other customs that make them unique.
Locus (Loci, pl.)
The specific position of a gene or DNA sequence on a chromosome. Geneticists use maps to describe the location and the genetic traits that are determined at those points.
Maternal Line
The lineage that follows your female ancestry through your mother. It traces your mother, your grandmother, great grandmother and so on, and - with the exception of you if you are male - consists entirely of females.
Megalith
A large stone that forms part of a prehistoric monument.
Migration
The movement of people from one area to another. In prehistory the term usually refers to large groups of people rather than individuals moving to a different area in search of resources or as part of an invasion. Migrations have occurred throughout human history, beginning with the movements of the first human groups from their origins in East Africa across the globe.
Mitochondria
An organelle found within a cell that produces the energy the cell needs to function.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)
The DNA contained within the mitochondria of cells. The mitochondria are the ‘power stations’ of the cells and produce the energy. Mitochondrial DNA has its own genome distinct from the DNA found in the nucleus. mtDNA in both men and women is inherited from the mother, and is useful for investigating the maternal lineage of a family.
Mutation
See genetic mutation
Neanderthals
An extinct human species or subspecies that appeared in Europe between 500,000 and 300,000 years ago and became extinct between 40,000 and 28,000 years ago. They adapted to a wide variety of environments and lived across Eurasia, Europe and parts of the Middle and Near East. Out of the extinct human species the Neanderthals were the most closely related to modern humans and shared 99.5% of their DNA with us. It is thought that some early human populations began interbreeding with Neanderthals around 100,000 years ago. Neanderthals had a prominent brow and sloping skull but had brains as large as the early modern humans. They also had a stocky build, thought to be a heat-conserving adaptation to the Ice Age. As well as using tools, Neanderthals buried their dead and are thought to have looked after their sick, pointing to the development of a social structure that involved caring for others.
Neolithic
The last part of the Stone Age, which commenced with the beginning of farming and ended with the widespread use of metal tools. It is characterized by changes in culture, including the cultivation of crops and domestication of animals. The timespan of the Neolithic varies in different parts of the world. It is thought to have begun as early as 10,200BC in some parts of the Middle East and later in other parts of the world, ending between 4,500 and 2,000BC.
Paleolithic
The earliest phase of the Stone Age, and longest period in human history. The start of the Paleolithic is dated around 2.5 million years ago, and the end at 10,000 years ago. During the Paleolithic several different species of humans lived on earth through scavenging, hunting and gathering, with most of their technology based on stone tool making.
Pastoralist
Farmer who raises livestock on natural pastures.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
A way of increasing the rate of DNA replication so that unlimited copies can be made from the original DNA sample. It uses DNA polymerase, the enzyme that facilitates DNA replication in nature. It is used in laboratories to multiply the amount of DNA available in a sample for analysis.
Short Tandem Repeat (STR)
A patterning in which several base pairs are repeated in sequences along a strand of DNA. Each person’s genes display unique patterning and these patterns are used to catalog differences in DNA profiles.
Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP - pronounced ‘snips’)
The most common type of genetic variation among people. Each SNP represents a difference in a single DNA building block or nucleotide. SNPs occur normally throughout a person’s DNA and there are roughly 10 million SNPs in the human genome. Most commonly, these variations are found in the DNA between genes.
Subsistence Pattern/Strategy
The method by which a society obtains its food resources.
X-SV Test
A test that looks at the mitochrondrial DNA (mtDNA) in order to determine whether or not two or more people could be related through the maternal line.
Y-STR Test
A test that looks at the STRs on the Y chromosome in order to determine whether or not two males could be related through paternal bloodlines.
Y-Chromosomal DNA
The DNA that only occurs on the Y chromosome. It is passed down from father to son through the generations and is only inherited by males.