Click anywhere on the left-hand side to jump back to the top of the page. For a more complete list of terms, see the Glossary of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering.

Agrobacterium: Microorganism (bacterium) that produces crown gall disease in the wild; it does so by introducing a part of its genetic material into the plant to direct it to make compounds it needs to live. A small piece of genetic material was isolated from this bacterium, modified so that it does not cause disease and is now used for introducing new genetic information into plant cells.

Agro-ecosystem: A complex mixture of pastures, farm fields, businesses, home sites, natural habitats and cities and towns.

Agronomy: The science and economics of crop production; management of farm land.

Antibiotic: Chemical sometimes synthesized by other organisms, sometimes manufactured, that is a deterrent to other organisms.

Antibiotic resistance: Resistance mechanisms to antibiotics exist that render cells "immune" to the antibiotic; the genes for these characteristics are found in certain organisms. The genes are used in some genetic engineering experiments as tools to identify cells that have received new DNA.

Antibody: Protein produced by humans and higher animals in response to the presence of another protein, termed an antigen. The interaction of the antigen and the antibody can cause certain human health problems, like allergies or autoimmune diseases.

Antigen: Substance, usually a protein, that when introduced into the body causes the body to make an antibody, usually specific to the antigen.

Autoradiography: Technique used to visualize DNA that is labeled with radioactivity. It can be used to determine the presence or absence of certain DNA fragments and the length or number of DNA molecules.

Bacillus thuringiensis: See Bt.

Bacteriophage: Virus that infects bacteria, sometimes causing the death of the host organism.

Bacterium/pl. bacteria: Simplest form of life that exists as a single cell without a distinct structure called a nucleus that contains the genetic information of the cell. Also known as a prokaryote.

Base pair: One unit of DNA composed of two complementary nucleic acid molecules (nucleotides) on opposing strands of DNA. The base adenosine always pairs with thymidine; the base guanidine pairs with cytidine.

Biodegradable: Capable of being broken down by microorganisms. Breakdown products can often be re-used by other organisms as food and energy sources.

Bioinformatics: Assembly of data from genomic analysis into accessible and usable forms.

Biomass: Total weight of all organisms in a sample after drying.

Biomining: Use of living organisms (e.g., bacteria, plants) to accumulate in their cells precious metals, like gold, silver, platinum, from mine tailings. Organisms can be collected and the metal recovered.

Bioreactor: Vessel or container in which a biological reaction occurs. Often used in manufacturing efforts to produce pharmaceuticals.

Bioremediation: Use of organisms (e.g., bacteria, plants) to remove environmental contaminants from soils and water. The contaminants can include organic molecules, like PCP's, or metals, like mercury, selenium and lead.

Biotechnology: See "Know GMO's" Basics section. Historically means use of an organisms to perform a function, like making cheese or wine. Contemporary meaning includes the use of the new genetic tools of recombinant DNA to make a new genetically modified organism.

BST/BGH: Bovine somatotropin or bovine growth hormone. This is a hormone produced by cattle naturally. The genetic information for this hormone was cloned and can now be made in microorganisms for injection into cattle to increase milk production.

Bt: Bacillus thuringiensis. A naturally occurring microorganism that produces a toxin that only kills organisms with alkaling stomachs, namely insect larvae. As a whole killed organism, this toxin has been used for biological control for decades. The genetic information that encodes the toxin was identified and moved into plants to make them insect tolerant.

"Bug": Colloquial or slang term for bacterium.

Callus: Undifferentiated plant cells resulting from cell division of differentiated organs, such as leaves, roots, seeds. The undifferentiated callus can be triggered by hormones to develop into a whole plant.

cDNA: DNA that is synthesized to be complementary to a mRNA molecule. By definition a cDNA represents a portion of the DNA that specifies a protein (is translated). If the sequence of the cDNA is known, by complementarity, the sequence of the DNA is known.

Cell: Basic unit of life, the smallest living structure that is able to function independently. The human body is composed of trillions of cells; bacteria are a single cell.

Centimorgan: Unit of measurement for studying genetics. One centimorgan is equivalent to a 0.01 chance that a particular genetic location (locus) will be separate from a particular marker in a single generation. In humans a centimorgan is about 1 million base pairs.

Chromosome: Spring-like structures of tightly coiled DNA that contains the genetic information (genes) that instructs the cell on its function. Genes are present on chromosomes. Organisms contain differing but characteristic numbers of chromosomes; humans contain 23 pairs of chromosomes, mice 19 and corn ten. One chromosome of the pair is inherited from each parent.

Clone: Exact genetic replica of a single unit of the genetic information in the form of DNA (e.g., gene) or of an entire cell or organism.

Cloning: Means of isolating particular parts of the genome in small fragments of DNA and making copies of and studying the sequence in another organism. Can also mean the process of producing by nonsexual means an identical copy of an organisms. Examples could include producing an entire tree or plant from a cutting; bacteria that reproduce by splitting produce "clones" in the process.

Codon: Unit of three nucleotide bases contained in the DNA and mRNA that specifies the information for one of the twenty amino acids; the entire array of codons is known as the genetic code. Strings of codons form genes and strings of genes form chromosomes.

Contigs: Group of DNA sequences that are overlapping or contiguous on the genome. Such sequences are necessary to obtain the entire, uninterrupted sequence of the genome.

Cosmids: Vehicles that are used to separate out discrete sections of the DNA for cloning purposes. These vehicles contain bacterial phage lambda DNA to allow them to make copies of themselves in their bacterial host and also DNA fragments of about 40,000 base pairs from the source being studied.

Cross-infection: The simultaneous infection with different types of viruses.

Culture: A particular type or subset of organisms growing under controlled conditions in the laboratory; a cell culture.

Cytoplasm: Liquid portion inside of a cell in which other parts of the cell reside, e.g., ribosomes, mitochondria.

Dietary supplement: Food product ingested to correct a perveived deficit in the overall diet; typically not a whole food.

DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid. The chemical building block of the genetic information in the cell, genes; it specifies the characteristics of most living organisms. The DNA is usually in the form of two complementary strands.

DNA probe: Short piece of DNA that is complementary to a specific piece of DNA in the cell. By marking the probe, it is possible to visualize whether the DNA is present in the genetic material. This forms the basis for DNA diagnostics.

E. coli/Escherichia coli: Specific single-celled organism or bacterium that lives in the intestinal tract of most vertebrates; some strains of this bacteria are harmful to humans, e.g., E. coli 0157. This organism has been used to do much of the genetic manipulation with recombinant DNA methods because it is well-characterized genetically.

Ecology: Study of interaction of organisms with the physical environment and with one another.

Ecosystem: Living system that includes all organisms in a "natural community" that live and interact with their environment.

Electrophoresis: Method using an electrical field which leads to the separation of proteins or DNA fragments based on their size. Smaller proteins or DNA fragments move faster; larger ones slower. Samples are normally placed in the electrical field loaded in a gel-like substance, called agar or agarose.

Endophyte: Organism living inside another organism. In some cases the endophyte cannot live outside its host, an "obligate endophyte"; in other cases the endophyte can live outside its host, "facultative endophyte".

Enzyme: Protein that facilitates or speeds up certain chemical reactions. Enzymes are used inside of cells to aid in cell growth and reproduction. Enzymes have also been isolated from organisms and used in products like cheese and laundry detergents.

Eucaryote/eukaryote: Organism that contains a defined nucleus; includes all organisms except viruses, bacteria and blue-green algae, which are known as prokaryotes.

Exons: Portion of the DNA sequence that codes for the protein parts of the gene.

Explant: Portion of living tissue that is removed from the organism (e.g., plant) and cultured independently in the laboratory.

Fermentation: Conversion of one substance into a more desirable substance through the actions of microorganisms under controlled growth conditions.

Functional food: Food that provides health benefits beyond energy and essential nutrients (e.g. yogurt, which promotes beneficial microflora in the gut).

Fungicide: Some agent, like a chemical, that kills fungi.

Fungus/ pl. fungi: Type of microorganism that lacks chlorophyll used for photosynthesis, for example yeasts and molds.

Gene: Segment of DNA specifying a unit of genetic information; an ordered sequence of nucleotide base pairs that produce a certain product that has a specific function.

Gene flow: The incorporation of genes from one organism into the complement of genes in another population of organisms.

Gene mapping: Determination of the relative locations of genetic information (genes) on chromosomes.

Gene pool: The combination of all genes and gene variations of a specified group, e.g. species

Genetics: Study of the patterns of inheritance of genetic information in organisms.

Genome: Entire genetic material in an organism, comprising all chromosomes.

Genomic library: Collection of DNA clones that represent the entire genome.

Genomics: Molecular characterization of all the genes and gene products of a species.

Genotype: Collection of genetic material in an organism that gives rise to its characteristics.

GMO: Genetically modified organism, term used to refer to organisms modified by the new methods of genetic engineering.

Herbal supplement: The subset of botanical supplements derived from herbaceous plants.

Hybridization: 1. Joining of two complementary strands of DNA, or of DNA and RNA, to form a double stranded molecule. 2. Process of sexual exchange between two plants to produce hybrid plants.

Intellectual Property: Intellectual Property rights include patent rights, plant variety protection certificates, unpublished patent applications and inventions that may or may not be legally protectable.

Intron: DNA sequences that interrupt the protein-coding sequence of a gene; introns are transcribed into mRNA but the sequences are eliminated from the RNA before it is used to make protein.

Immunoassay: Diagnostic assay that uses antibodies to confirm the presence/absence of certain compounds.

In vitro: Direct translation is "in glass". Describes biological reactions that take place in laboratory containers, such as test tubes. Although they attempt to achieve conditions in living organisms, such reactions only simulate real-life situations.

In vivo: Direct translation is "in life". Describes biological reactions taking place inside living organisms.

Library: Collection of fragments of the genome in an unordered array. Relationships of fragments can be determined by physical (sequencing, RFLP maps, ESTs) or genetic means.

Linkage: Physical relationship between markers on a chromosome; the linkage number gives an estimate of the probability that two markers will be inherited together. The closer together the markers, the lower the probability that they will be separated during chromosome pairing after fertilization.

Locus: Location of a gene on a chromosome.

Marker: Identifiable physical location on a chromosome, the inheritance of which can be monitored.

Marker gene: Gene used during genetic engineering attempts that helps to identify cells that have received new DNA. Genes usually include either a selection advantage, e.g., antibiotic or herbicide resistance, or visualization advantage, e.g., beta glucuronidase (GUS) or green fluorescent protein (GFP) expression.

Metabolites: Substances that are used by or produced by enzyme reactions or other metabolic processes.

Microbe: Any small, microscopic organism.

Micrometer: Unit used for measurement, equivalent to 10-6 meters or one-millionth of a meter; abbreviation um.

Molecular breeding: Identification and evaluation of useful traits in breeding programs using marker assisted selection.

Monoclonal antibody: Highly specific, purified antibody derived from only one subset of cells and which recognizes only one antigen or epitope.

Morphology: Form and structure of organisms, like plants and animals; their structural appearance.

Mutagen: Agent or process that causes mutation, like chemicals, radiation or transposable elements.

Mutant: Variant organism that differs from its parent because of mutation.

Mutation: Genetic change caused by natural phenomena or by use of mutagens. Stable mutations in genes are passed on to offspring; unstable mutations are not. From latin word for "change".

Mycorrhiza/pl. mycorrhizae: Fungal microorganisms that form close, symbiotic relationships with the roots of higher plants. Such relationship often provide the plant with micronutrients.

Nanometer: Unit used for measurement, equivalent to 10-9 meters or one-billionth of a meter; abbreviation nm.

Nitrogen fixation: Change of atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen compounds by certain microorganisms, usually living in close relationship with plant roots. Nitrogen compounds can be used by plants as food. See rhizobia.

Nodule: Swelling or enlargement of roots of plants, predominantly legumes, due to the presence of nitrogen-fixing microorganisms.

Nutraceutical: Food or food product that decreaases the risk of disease establishment of progression.

Nucleic acids: Long chains of molecules known as nucleotides, that perform important functions in the cell; two kinds of nucleic acids function in the cell, i.e., DNA and RNA.

Nucleotide: Building blocks of DNA and RNA. Nucleotides are composed of phosphate, sugar and one of four bases, adenine, guanine, cytosine and uracil (RNA) or thymine (DNA). Three bases form a codon, which specifies a particular amino acid; amino acids are strung together to form proteins. Strings of thousands of nucleotides form a DNA or RNA molecule.

Nucleus: Central compartment in cells of higher organisms (eukaryotes); it houses most of the heritable genetic information in a cell in higher organisms.

Oligonucleotide probe: Short piece of DNA that is complementary to a specific piece of DNA in the cell. By marking the probe, it is possible to visualize whether the DNA is present in the genetic material. This forms the basis for DNA diagnostics.

Pathogen: Any organism capable of producing disease.

Peptide: Two or more amino acids, building blocks of proteins, that are chemically linked to each other.

Phage: Virus that infects bacteria, sometimes causing the death of the host organism.

Phenotype: Visible characteristics or traits of an organism, like a plant or an animal.

Phytochemical: Substances found in plants and plant-derived products.

Plasmid: Independent, free-floating circular piece of DNA in a bacterium, capable of making copies of itself in the host cell. Plasmids can be used in recombinant DNA experiments to clone genes from other organisms and make large quantities of their DNA.

Polymerase chain reaction: Commonly used technique that leads to the selective amplification of a nucleotide sequence of interest. The amplified DNA becomes the predominant sequence in the mixture upon PCR amplification. Often used to make nucleotide probes for diagnostics.

Polymeorphysm: A visible or molecular difference between two contrasting individuals.

Prion: A small protein found in the brain cell membrane. The distorted form of this protein is responsible for the mad cow disease and causes new Creutzfeld-Jakob disease in humans.

Prokaryote/procaryote: Microbial or bacterial cell lacking a true nucleus. Its genetic information is usually in the form of a single long strand of DNA; plasmids exist separate from the primary DNA strand. Contrast with eukaryote.

Promoter: A control region of a gene that determines in which tissue and at what time points a gene product is produced.

Proteomics: The study of proteins.

Protoplast: Cellular material, cytoplasm, mitochondria, nucleus, etc., remaining after the cell wall has been removed.

PST: Porcine somatotropin. Version of growth hormone or somatotropin produced by swine.

Recombinant DNA: (Abbr. rDNA) As a process: broad range of techniques that involve the manipulation of the genetic material of organisms, also known as genetic engineering or biotechnology. As a product: fragments of DNA from two sources or organisms joined together to form a single molecule.

Regeneration: Process of triggering the formation of whole plants from cells removed from the plant and grown in the laboratory under controlled growth conditions. One of the steps involved in the process of demonstrating totipotency.

Restriction enzymes: Class of enzymes that cut DNA at specific locations identified by the sequence of the nucleotides. At the site of the cut other pieces of DNA, sometimes sharing the same recognition sequence, can be inserted next to the original location of the cut.

Rhizobia: Microorganisms or bacteria belonging to the genus, Rhizobium, which are commonly involved in fixing nitrogen; normally reside in close relationship (symbiotic) with roots of leguminous plants.

Rhizosphere: Area of soil near the plant roots, normally the location of large populations of microorganisms.

Ribonucleic acid: (Abbr. RNA) Chemical chains made up on the sugar ribose attached to nucleic acid molecules. Different types of RNA exist in cells, some of which serve as the immediate code for proteins, some of which are involved in the physical process of protein synthesis. RNA can also serve instead of DNA as the only genetic information in certain viruses.

Sexual reproduction: Process in which two cells, termed gametes, come together to form one fertilized cell that contains genetic information from both parental cells.

Somaclonal variation: Genetic changes that occur within non-reproductive cells, often during the process of culturing the cells in the laboratory. Some of these changes are heritable and result from actual changes in the genetic code and some changes are only present for a single generation at which time the plant becomes phenotypically normal.

Species: Term used to describe the group of like individuals. Classically species were defined as organisms that share certain characteristics.

Somatotropin: Protein hormone secreted by a special organ in mammals, the pituitary gland, and each animal produces its own specific version of the hormone that is active in its own species and in species of lower order but not higher. The hormone directs milk production and growth.

Spore: Particular form of certain microbes that allows the organisms to survive in a dormant stage until conditions improve at which time the spores can germinate and the life cycle resumes.

Sterile: Free of living organisms; the terms usually refers to lack of microorganisms or bacteria. Process of sterilization refers to killing all life forms by heating, chemical treatment or other means.

Strain: Different organism within same species.

Substrate: Material or substance acted upon by an enzyme.

Symbiosis: Two or more dissimilar organisms living together in close association with one another. Includes parasitism, where one of the organisms harms the other(s), mutualism, where association is advantageous to all) and commensalism, where association is advantageous to one organism but doesn't affect other organism(s).

Tissue culture: Process of introducing living tissue into culture in the laboratory where tissues or cells can be grown for extended periods of time.

Totipotency: Capability of certain cells to be cultured in the laboratory and undergo sustained cell divisions. Application of hormonal and other signals triggers the tissue to undergo a programmed, developmental pathway that leads to the reformation of the entire organism.

Transformation: Process of introducing into an organism new genetic information that can be stably maintained.

Transgenic: Organism that contains genetic materials introduced through recombinant DNA techniques. Usually implies that organism contains DNA from another organism.

Transposon: Naturally occurring DNA sequence that is capable of moving its location within the genome; movement is due to the presence of an enzyme that can mediate the movement and which is encoded within the transposon itself. Transposable elements are responsible for the multiple colors on an ear of Indian corn and the color sectors in petunia.

Vaccine: Utilization of a killed or debilitated organism or a part of its contents that is capable of inducing protection against the disease caused by that organism.

Value-added: Trait introduced into an organism/plant that gives that organism added value, like the addition of a valued trait or the capability to produce a new, valued substance, like a pharmaceutical or a biomaterial.

Vector: Agent, such as an insect, virus or plasmid, that is able to mechanically or biologically transfer itself or its contents from one organism to another. In genetic engineering this refers to any virus or plasmid into which a gene is introduced and which is subsequently transferred into a cell.

Virulence: Degree or severity of disease-causing potential of an organism.

Virus: Small genetic element, composed of either DNA or RNA that is protected by a protein coat. Virus is capable of existing either inside a cell (intracellular) or outside a cell (extracellular). Viruses cannot make copies of themselves without invading another cell and using some of its machinery.

Wild-type: Organism as discovered in nature.

Yeast: Kind of fungi or microbe. Yeast are used in bread-, wine- and beer-making to produce fermentation products.