Glossary of terms
By Sandy Starr (Communications Officer at the Progress Educational Trust)
This glossary forms part of a School Resource Pack created by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) as part of its project Spectrum of Opinion: Genes. A broader glossary of terms relevant to genetics, assisted conception, embryo/stem cell research and related areas can be found on PET's BioNews website.
Something a person does or can do.
A term used by the Nazis in the Second World War to represent their ideal of white-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed people whom they believed to be different from and superior to others (in terms of both biology and culture).
A tendency for organisms to reproduce either with organisms similar to themselves (in which case the tendency will be towards a smaller diversity of traits in their population), or with organisms different from themselves (in which case the tendency will be towards a greater diversity of traits in their population).
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
A neurodevelopmental disorder, characterised by hyperactivity (an unusually excitable or agitated state of mind) and difficulty in paying or sustaining attention. Evidence from scientific research suggests that the disorder is partially genetic.
Autism spectrum disorder
The collective term for biology (as practiced by scientists in laboratories) and medicine (as practiced by doctors or clinicians in clinics). The term is also sometimes used to refer to the 'unorthodox biomedical movement', a term for those people who believe that autism is caused by chemicals in vaccines or other products.
A neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by fluctuations of mood, involving periods of unusually elevated mood (mania) and/or periods of unusually depressed mood (depression), the two 'poles' from which the disorder gets its name. Evidence from scientific research suggests that the disorder is partially genetic.
The physical entirety of a single organism.
An organ, located inside the head of humans and other complex organisms, that coordinates actions and is necessary for cognition and therefore the mind. The brain is the central part of the nervous system.
A person, often unpaid, who gives ongoing assistance and support to someone affected by a disorder, disability or impairment. A person's carer might be a relative (for example their parent or their child), a friend or a partner.
Causal modelling approach
A defining or distinguishing feature, or the act of recognising such a feature.
Organising things into groups on the basis of their common characteristics, so as to make it possible to consider these groups in general (rather than having to give specific consideration to each individual thing).
A place where medicine is practiced. The term is often used for a place that patients visit for relatively short periods of time, rather than a place where patients stay overnight, although both types of place may be contained within the same building.
Someone with professional qualifications who practices medicine in a clinic. They may deal with health in general (in which case they are called a general practitioner) or they may deal with a specific area of health (in which case they are called a specialist).
An idea of something, developed in an organised and deliberate way by considering the thing's characteristics.
The circumstances that can be said to surround a particular thing.
A particularly fierce or prolonged argument or difference of opinion, or something that is likely to provoke such argument.
A genetic disorder that prevents the functioning of a protein connected with the body's production of mucus (in the lungs and nose), digestive juice (in the stomach) and sweat (in the skin). The health problems that arise as a consequence of this disorder lead to increasing disability and often early death.
The extent to something falls short of what is normal.
Someone who fails to do what society and its rules require or expect of them. In the past this term had pathological implications, but this is no longer the case.
A state of sadness, helplessness or hopelessness whose cause might not be explicable as a normal reaction to a person's circumstances (that is, the state might be irrational). Although this term is sometimes used as a shorthand for major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, depression is not in itself always pathological, and even where it is pathological it can be a symptom or sign of several different disorders.
Discovering evidence for the existence of a thing.
A lack of interest, involvement or investment.
A state where people or things vary greatly from one another, rather than being dominated by something that clearly appears to be normal.
Someone with professional qualifications who practices medicine in a clinic. The term is often used to refer to a general practitioner - that is, someone who deals with health in general - but it can also refer to clinicians more broadly.
A woman who provides one or more of her eggs, either to make conception possible for a person or couple with impaired fertility, or to be studied in biomedical research. Eggs are obtained from the donor via surgery.
The circumstances or context surrounding a thing. In biomedicine, this term is often used to describe any factor that is not genetic, but some people argue that it would be more useful to classify social and cultural factors separately from environmental factors.
Beliefs, opinions and arguments about what is right and wrong, and why.
The attempt or desire to improve human populations through the application of genetics. Although this term originally had quite a general meaning, it is now often used to refer to the specific ideas and actions of the Nazis in relation to the Aryan race.
A form of words commonly used to convey something, or the emergence of one thing as the consequence of another thing. In genetics, the term refers to the emergence of a phenotype as a consequence of a gene or a DNA sequence.
Something that indicates, or helps decide, whether or not a theory is true.
Fragile X syndrome
An informal term for a person who has narrow interests, lacks social skills, or has a great ability to work with information technology. Before information technology became prominent in the late twentieth century, such a person might have been called a trainspotter.
The idea that being a geek is not a bad thing, but rather is something to be celebrated.
Referring to several related things, rather than being specific.
The scientific study of the biochemical ways in which organisms inherit characteristics. Since the mid-twentieth century, when people's understanding of DNA improved significantly, this term has come to refer specifically to the study of genes and their expression.
An Austrian clinician who lived from 1906 to 1980, whose work had a great influence on the way we now understand autism (particularly in its more high-functioning forms). Asperger's syndrome is named after him.
Human Genome Project
An international effort to read and interpret the entire genetic information of a human. The central part of the project - establishing the sequence of human DNA - was completed in 2003, but study of the sequence will continue for the foreseeable future.
Computers and what they make possible (including the internet).
A person's ability to consider things not directly related to a their circumstances. In the context of autism, where impaired imagination is a constituent part of the triad, the term refers to a person's ability to understand and consider other people's behaviour, or to understand and consider things that fall outside their routine.
A limitation that prevents or makes difficult something that the majority of people are able to do.
Strong, or strongly focused.
The effect that two or more things - for example, genes and the environment - have upon one another. In the context of autism, where impaired intreraction is a constituent part of the triad, the term refers to a person's ability to relate to other people by understanding other people's feelings and by managing their own feelings.
A word or phrase that describes a thing and makes it possible to classify it, or the process of developing such a word or phrase.
Laws that apply at a national or international level, and the process of creating them. Where rules are created that have a less official status than laws, this process is called regulation.
An Austrian psychiatrist, who lived from 1894 to 1981, and spent most of his life in America. His work had a great influence on the way we now understand autism (particularly in its more severe forms).
Lasting either the entire duration (the lifespan) or the remaining duration of a person's life.
The entirety and duration of a person's life.
A connection between two or more things, or between two or more constituent parts of a thing.
Adhering to a coherent set of rules or assumptions.
The duration of time that a person lives for, or is expected to live for.
Major depressive disorder
A neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by depression, lack of self-esteem, and difficulty in deriving pleasure from things that are normally considered pleasant. Evidence from scientific research suggests that the disorder is partially genetic.
The process or tendency via which things not previously thought pathological come to be described as such. Medicalisation is controversial, because some people argue that it trivialises already established disorders, or that it can have the effect of making people's experience of physical or mental health problems more severe.
Involving a person's mind - their individual self and awareness, which exist as a result of cognition.
A deliberate and organised way of doing something.
The use of thinking or language to create a representation of a thing that improves our understanding of its characteristics. In its less organised form this is a universal aspect of mental functioning, and in its more organised form this is a central aspect of scientific study.
A tendency to focus on a specific thing, or group of specific things, in an intense or obsessive way. This is behaviour characteristics of autism, and has come to be informally associated with the trainspotter or geek
A variety of fascism that emerged in Germany after the First World War, and a political party promoting it which governed Germany from 1933 until the end of the Second World War in 1945. A central aspect of Nazism was belief in an Aryan race.
A term for brains or minds that work in a wide variety of ways (including the brains or minds of people with neurodevelopmental disorders), and for the idea that such diversity is not a bad thing but rather is something to be celebrated. The opposite of this is neurotypicality.
Having characteristics that are the same as, or similar to, those of the majority.
A sudden episode of intense anxiety or distress, which makes normal functioning difficult or impossible. The cause of this episode might not be explicable as a normal reaction to a person's circumstances (that is, the episode might be irrational).
Involving a disorder.
The ability to consider and compare things both quickly and accurately.
Involving a variety of different impairments, rather than just one impairment. In the context of mental health, this term is used in relation to disorders that are characterised by delayed development of social and communication skills.
The extent to which something can be reliably anticipated.
Prior to birth.
Psychiatric Genome-Wide Association Study Consortium
An international group of people and organisations who are working together to combine and investigate the results of genetic studies of five neurodevelopmental disorders: autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia.
A place where people are kept as a consequence of impaired mental health. Such places have existed for centuries, but they changed radically during the twentieth century as a result of changes and improvements in psychology and psychiatry.
Someone with professional qualifications who practices psychiatry.
The response of a person or thing to circumstances.
An arrangement where someone or something restricts what is and is not permitted to happen. In the context of social affairs, this term is often used to refer to the creation of rules that have a less official standing than laws (which are created via legislation).
The process via which conception occurs.
A British scientist and author who was born in 1941, and whose work originally focused on animal behaviour and evolutionary biology. His work has had a great influence on the way we now understand the role of genes in evolution.
Exposure to possible damaging or undesirable circumstances. Risk can be divided into two components - the objective chance or probability that something will occur, and the subjective burden that this will place upon a specific person or group of people.
A routine whose purpose is not practical, or whose purpose is difficult to understand.
Something that helps to hold something else in place or supports its functioning.
A neurodevelopmental disorder, characterised by distorted ideas, beliefs, experiences and communication that make it difficult for a person to tell what is and is not real, and therefore difficult to be rational. Evidence from scientific research suggests that the disorder is partially genetic.
The study of the world and everything in it, using a method that involves creating theories and then testing them against evidence from research, and that involves creating models that can reliably predict outcomes. The term is often used to refer to areas of science that deal with the natural world, but there are also social sciences.
Someone with professional qualifications who practices science.
To do with the ways in which we perceive our environment.
The order in which something occurs, or a series of things occurring in a particular order.
Capable of being useful.
An effect of medication or of some other medical intervention, that is additional to the main or intended effect - that is, additional to the effect that constitutes treatment. Side-effects are often undesirable and problematic.
To do with groups of people, and the way that the individuals within them relate to one another.
A specific type of thing, for example a specific organism. Organisms are often said to belong to the same species if they can reproduce with one another and create fertile offspring, but there are also other definitions of what constitutes a species of organism.
Referring to one precise thing, rather than being general.
Disgrace or shame associated with something not considered normal.
Applying thinking to something to create a theory of its characteristics or functioning. The term also refers to a specific effort by a scientist or group of scientists, the results of which are published in a scientific journal.
Easy to perceive, but not very important in the general scheme of things.
A method of establishing whether something is true or false, or whether it is present or absent.
An informal term for someone with an intense or obsessive interest in railways and trains. The term has also come to refer more generally to a person with narrow interests, although such a person is now just as likely to be called a geek.
Either a characteristic of a person or thing, or a specific variant of an organism's phenotype. Care is required when using this term, because the fact that it has these two different meanings means that it can imply genetic cause when this has not actually been established.
Making something seem less important than it really is.
The study of identical twins as a method of researching the genetics of behaviour. The fact that such twins have identical genes is used to establish whether and how environmental, social or cultural factors cause their behaviour to differ.
Single and indivisible.
Common to all or most.
The arrangement of constituent parts inside a machine or piece of equipment.