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Biotechnology

Glossary of Biotechnology Terms

Agrobacterium tumefaciens: A gram-negative, rod-shaped flagellated bacterium responsible for crown gall tumor in plants. Following infection, the TI plasmid from the bacterium becomes integrated into the host plant's DNA, and the presence of the bacterium is no longer necessary for the continued growth of the cell. This bacterium is now used to deliberately transfer genetic material into plants through biotechnology.

Biobased products: Fuels, chemicals, building materials, or electric power or heat produced from biological material(s). The term may include any energy, commercial or industrial products, other than food or feed, that uses biological products or renewable domestic agricultural (plant, animal and marine), or forestry materials.

Biological boundaries: A concept that differentiates one organism from another and suggests that organisms cannot or should not exchange genetic material. An alternative concept is that genes are defined not by the organism from which they came, but by their function. As scientists have identified genes in seemingly non-related organisms such as plants and humans, they have found identical genes in each.

Biopharming: The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants or domestic animals.

Biotechnology: A set of biological techniques developed through basic research and now applied to research and product development. Biotechnology refers to the use of recombinant DNA, cell fusion, and new bioprocessing techniques.

Biotechnology-derived: The use of molecular biology and/or recombinant DNA technology, or in vitro gene transfer, to develop products or to impart specific capabilities in plants or other living organisms.

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE): A disease of cattle, related to scrapie of sheep, also known as “mad cow disease.” It is hypothesized to be caused by a prion, or small protein, which alters the structure of a normal brain protein, resulting in destruction of brain neural tissue.

Bt corn: A corn plant that has been developed though biotechnology so that the plant tissues express a protein derived from a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, which is toxic to some insects but non-toxic to humans and other mammals.

Cell: The lowest denomination of life thought to be possible. Most organisms consist of more than one cell which becomes specialized into particular functions to enable the whole organism to function properly. Cells contain DNA and many other elements to enable the cell to function.

Chromosomes: The self-replicating genetic structure of cells containing the cellular DNA. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes.

Control elements: DNA sequences in genes that interact with regulatory proteins (such as transcription factors) to determine the rate and timing of expression of the genes as well as the beginning and end of the transcript.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD): A disease of humans hypothesized to be caused by a prion, or a small protein, which alters the structure of a normal brain protein, resulting in destruction of brain neural tissue. The most common form is thought to have genetic origins. There is strong epidemiologic and laboratory evidence for a causal association between new variant CJD and BSE.

Cry1A: A protein derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis that is toxic to some insects when ingested. This bacterium occurs widely in nature and has been used for decades as an insecticide although it constitutes less than 2 percent of the overall insecticides used.

Cultivar: Synonymous with variety; the international equivalent of variety.

Double helix: The twisted-ladder shape that two linear strands of DNA assume when complementary nucleotides on opposing strands bond together.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid): The genetic material of all cells and many viruses. The molecule that encodes genetic information. DNA is a double-stranded molecule held together by weak bonds between base pairs of nucleotides. The four nucleotides in DNA contain the bases adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). In nature, base pairs form only between A and T and between G and C; thus the base sequence of each single strand can be deduced from that of its partner.

Embryonic stem (ES) cells: Cell lines derived from early embryos that have the potential to differentiate into all types of somatic cells as well as to form germ line cells, and hence whole animals, when injected into early embryos.

Endogenous retrovirus: Integrated retrovirus DNA (provirus) derived from infection of the germline of an ancestral animal. All animals are thought to carry numerous endogenous (but nonfunctional) retroviruses, some of which were inserted many millions of years ago.

Enucleated oocyte (cytoplast): An egg cell from which the nucleus has been removed mechanically.

Eukaryote: Organism whose cells have (1) chromosomes with nucleosomal structure and are separated from the cytoplasm by a two-membrane nuclear envelope, and (2) compartmentalization of functions in distinct cytoplasmic organelles. Contrast prokaryotes (bacteria and cyanobacteria).

Feral: Refers to an individual or population that has returned to the wild after a history of domestication.

Fibroblast: A type of relatively undifferentiated cell found in many parts of the body involved primarily in wound healing. Fibroblasts are relatively easy to grow in cell culture and often are used for this purpose.

Fitness: The ability to survive to reproductive age and produce viable offspring. Fitness also describes the frequency distribution of reproductive success for a population of sexually mature adults.

Gene: The fundamental physical and functional unit of heredity. A gene is an ordered sequence of nucleotides located in a particular position on a particular chromosome that encodes a specific functional product (such as a protein or RNA molecule).

Gene flow: The exchange of genetic traits between populations by movement of individuals, gametes, or spores. It involves the spread of new variants among different populations through dispersal.

Gene gun: A device invented at Cornell University that allows genetic material to be introduced into a new organism. The genetic material from the donor is "shot" into cells of the recipient, and the material is incorporated into its DNA.

Gene splicing: The isolation of a gene from one organism and then the introduction of that gene into another organism using techniques of biotechnology.

Genetic engineering: The technique of removing, modifying, or adding genes to a DNA molecule to change the information it contains. By changing this information, genetic engineering changes the type or amount of proteins an organism is capable of producing, thus enabling it to make new substances or perform new functions.

Genetically modified organism (GMO): Often, the label GMO and the term "transgenic" are used to refer to organisms that have acquired novel genes from other organisms by laboratory "gene transfer" methods.

Genetics: The study of the patterns of inheritance of specific traits.

Genome: All the genetic material in the chromosomes of a particular organism; its size is generally given as its total number of base pairs.

Genomics: is the mapping and sequencing of all the genetic material in the DNA of a particular organism as well as the use of information derived from genome sequence data to further elucidate what genes do, how they are controlled, and how they work together. See the Microbe Project for more information.

Genotype: The genetic identity of an individual. Genotype often is evident by outward characteristics.

Germline cells: Cells that contain inherited material that comes from the eggs and sperm, and that are passed on to offspring.

Herbicide-tolerant crop: Crop plants that have been developed to survive application(s) of one or more commercially available herbicides by the incorporation of certain gene(s) via biotechnology methods such as genetic engineering or traditional breeding methods (such as natural, chemical, or radiation mutation).

Homolog: In diploid organisms, one member of a pair of matching chromosomes.

Homologous recombination: Rearrangement of related DNA sequences on a different molecule by crossing over in a region of identical sequence.

Horizontal gene transfer: Transmission of DNA between species, involving close contact between the donor's DNA and the recipient, uptake of DNA by the recipient, and stable incorporation of the DNA into the recipient's genome.

Hybrid: Seed or plants produced as the result of controlled cross-pollination as opposed to seed produced as the result of natural pollination. Hybrid seeds are selected to have higher quality traits (for example, yield or pest tolerance).

Knock In: Replacement of a gene by a mutant version of the same gene using homologous recombination.

Knock Out: Inactivation of a gene by homologous recombination following transfection with a suitable DNA construct.

Labeling of foods: The process of developing a list of ingredients contained in foods. Labels imply that the list of ingredients can be verified. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has jurisdiction over what is stated on food labels.

Microinjection: The introduction of DNA into the nucleus of an oocyte, embryo, or other cell by injection through a very fine needle.

Minimal tillage practices: Practices that allow farmers to reduce the tilling of the land to conserve topsoil and its nutrients.

Molecular biology: A general term referring to study of the structure and function of proteins and nucleic acids in biological systems. See Biotechnology for the 21st Century: New Horizons for more information.

Mutation: Any inheritable change in DNA sequence.

Mutation breeding: Commonly used practices in plant breeding and other areas in which chemicals or radiation are applied to whole organisms, for example plants, or cells so changes in the organism's DNA will occur. Such changes are then evaluated for their beneficial effects such as disease resistance.

Natural selection: The concept developed by Charles Darwin that genes which produce characteristics that are more favorable in a particular environment will be more abundant in the next generation.

Nuclear reprogramming: Restoration of the correct embryonic pattern of gene expression in a nucleus derived from a somatic cell and introduced into an oocyte.

Nuclear transfer (NT): The generation of a new animal nearly identical to another one by injection of the nucleus from a cell of the donor animal into an enucleated oocyte of the recipient.

Nucleotide: A subunit of DNA or RNA consisting of a nitrogenous base (adenine, guanine, thymine, or cytosine in DNA; adenine, guanine, uracil, or cytosine in RNA), a phosphate molecule, and a sugar molecule (deoxyribose in DNA and ribose in RNA). Thousands of nucleotides are linked to form a DNA or RNA molecule.

Organic agriculture: A concept and practice of agricultural production that focuses on production without the use of synthetic pesticides. See the USDA's National Organic Program for an established a set of national standards, which are available online.

Ovule: An outgrowth of the ovary of a seed plant that encloses an embryo.

Pesticide resistance: A genetic change in response to selection by a pesticide, resulting in the development of strains capable of surviving a dose lethal to most individuals in a normal population. Resistance may develop in insects, weeds, or pathogens.

Phenotype: The visible and/or measurable characteristics of an organism (how it appears outwardly) as opposed to its genotype, or genetic characteristics.

Plant-incorporated protectants: Formerly referred to as plant-pesticides, plant-incorporated protectants (PIPs) are substances that act like pesticides produced and used by a plant to protect it from pests such as insects, viruses, and fungi.

Plasmid: A circular DNA molecule capable of replication in bacteria. Plasmids are the usual means of propagation of DNA for transfection or other purposes.

Pleiotropy: A phenomenon whereby a particular gene affects multiple traits.

Pollen: The cells that carry the male DNA of a seed plant.

Prion-related protein (PrP): A normal protein, expressed in the nervous system of animals, whose structure when altered (by interaction with altered copies of itself) is the cause of scrapie in sheep, BSE in cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

Prokaryote: Organisms, namely bacteria and cyanobacteria (formerly known as blue-green algae), characterized by the possession of a simple naked DNA chromosome, occasionally two such chromosomes, usually of circular structure, without a nuclear membrane and possessing a very small range of organelles, generally only a plasma membrane and ribosomes.

Promoter: A regulatory element that specifies the start site of transcription.

Pronuclear injection: The use of a fine needle to inject DNA into the nucleus of an unfertilized egg.

Protein: A large molecule composed of one or more chains of amino acids in a specific order. The order is determined by the base sequence of nucleotides in the gene that codes for the protein. Proteins are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body's cells, tissues, and organs; and each protein has unique functions. Examples are hormones, enzymes, and antibodies.

Recombinant DNA molecules (rDNA): A combination of DNA molecules of different origin that are joined using recombinant DNA technologies.

Recombinant DNA technology: Procedure used to join together DNA segments in a cell-free system (an environment outside a cell or organism). Under appropriate conditions, a recombinant DNA molecule can enter a cell and replicate there, either autonomously or after it has become integrated into a cellular chromosome.

Recombination: The process by which progeny derive a combination of genes different from that of either parent.

Resistance management: Strategies that can delay the onset of resistance. For insect resistance management, this includes the use of a refuge in which the insect will not be challenged by the pesticide used in the rest of the field.

Risk: The likelihood of a defined hazard being realized, which is the product of two probabilities: the probability of exposure, P(E) , and the probability of the hazard resulting given that exposure has occurred, P(H/E) ( R = P(E) x P(H/E)).

Scrapie: A disease, originally of sheep, but transmissible to other animals, characterized by neurological degeneration caused by accumulation of a structural variant of PrP.

Selectable marker: A gene, usually encoding resistance to an antibiotic, added to a vector construct to allow easy selection of cells that contain the construct from the large majority of cells that do not.

Selective breeding: Making deliberate crosses or matings of organisms so the offspring will have a desired characteristic derived from one of the parents.

Soil conservation practices: See minimal tillage practices.

Somatic cells: Cells of body tissues other than the germline.

Splicing: See gene splicing.

StarLinkTM: An insect-resistant variety of corn that was approved for animal feed only, not labeled for human consumption.

Tissue culture: A process of growing a plant in the laboratory from cells rather than seeds. This technique is used in traditional plant breeding as well as when using techniques of agricultural biotechnology.

Traditional breeding: Modification of plants and animals through selective breeding. Practices used in traditional plant breeding may include aspects of biotechnology such as tissue culture and mutation breeding.

Transfection: Alteration of the genome of a cell by direct introduction of DNA, a small portion of which becomes covalently associated with the host cell DNA.

Transgenic: Containing genes altered by insertion of DNA from an unrelated organism. Taking genes from one species and inserting them into another species to get that trait expressed in the offspring.

Variety: Subdivision of a species for taxonomic classification. Used interchangeably with the term cultivar to denote a group of individuals that is distinct genetically from other groups of individuals in the species. An agricultural variety is a group of similar plants that by structural features and performance can be identified from other varieties within the same species.

Vector: A type of DNA, such as a plasmid or phage that is self-replicating and that can be used to transfer DNA segments among host cells. Also, an insect or other organism that provides a means of dispersal for a disease or parasite.

Vertical transmission: Inheritance of a gene from parent to offspring.

Virus: A noncellular biological entity that can reproduce only within a host cell. Viruses consist of nucleic acid covered by protein; some animal viruses also are surrounded by a membrane. Inside the infected cell, the virus uses the synthetic capability of the host to produce progeny viruses.

Vitamins: Various substances that are essential in minute quantities to the nutrition of animals and plants.

Xenotransplantation: Transplantation of cells, tissues, or organs from one species to another.

Zygote: A fertilized oocyte.

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Sources:

Agricultural Biotechnology: Informing the Dialogue. Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: Ithaca NY. 2003.

National Research Council. Animal Biotechnology: Science-Based Concerns. Washington, DC. 2003

 

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