Glossary

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Find below:   A to F (brief) ... G to L (brief) ... M to Z (brief) ... Full Glossaries ... Hints + Notes

A to F

ABC - Agricultural Biotechnology Council, industry group, favours GM
ACNFP - Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, UK
ACRE - Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment, UK
AEBC - Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, UK, now defunct
allele - a specific variant of a gene, at a defined position on a chromosome; typically, associated with an identifiable trait, such as colour. A 'dominant' allele on one chromosome (of a pair) over-rides a 'recessive' one on the other chromosome (of the pair).
antibiotic - substance which can kill micro-organisms, particularly harmful ones
antibiotic resistance marker - or ARM, a gene (which confers resistance to an antibiotic) included in most of today's GM plants, to indicate whether the GM process has worked.
biofuel - substance, derived from a recently living organism, suitable for use as a fuel, eg. wood, alcohol. Regarded as a 'renewable energy' source. GE may be involved but not necessarily. See 'Hot Topics: Biofuels'.
biotechnology - or 'biotech', the technology used to manipulate the makeup of, and to harness, living organisms in the service of mankind. While it might be argued that the term (being recently introduced) should relate only to modern techniques, the industry itself asserts that this is not a new field, since selective breeding and fermentation have been utilised for centuries. Thus the term is ambiguous as to whether genetic modification is involved, although it usually is implied.
BSE - Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, 'Mad Cow Disease', which crossed into humans and caused many deaths after the government ignored evidence from independent scientists. [Note 1]
Bt - Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacterium which produces poisons fatal to many insects
CaMV35s - powerful gene promoter sequence derived from the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus.
carcinogenic - capable of causing cancer.
chromosome - one of the set of structures, within a cell nucleus, that together carry nearly all the genes of an organism.
cisgenic - (or intragenic) relating to engineered gene transfer from within the same species or one closely related (c.f. transgene). See "GMO Myths and Truths" (in GM Basics)
clone - a cell or organism genetically identical to another; (now, commonly) an organism created artificially by replacing the nucleus of a fertilised egg with the nucleus from another (adult) individual - see 'Hot Topics: Cloning of Animals'.
Codex Alimentarius Commission - a WHO body which sets international food safety standards.
coexistence - see 'Hot Topics: Coexistence'.
CRISPR/Cas nuclease - type of synthetic nuclease used in targeted genome editing.
DEFRA - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK
DNA - deoxyribonucleic acid, the long molecule which contains the genes of an organism. The molecule consists of two spiral chains, zipped together by links all along their lengths. (cf RNA) See 'Hot Topics: DNA and Genes'.
EC - European Commission, the 'civil service' part of the European Union's government.
EFSA - European Food Safety Authority
embryo - a plant or animal in the initial stage of growth; a fertilised seed or egg (ovum).
EMS - Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome, a debilitating and life-threatening disease, linked to a genetically engineered food supplement (L-tryptophan) in the US. [Note 2]
enzyme - a chemical that provides essential assistance to a specific biochemical reaction.
EPA - Environmental Protection Agency, USA
epigenetic - relating to the processes that control how genes actually function, in responding to their current environment.
EU - European Union, comprising several European countries, including UK
FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
FDA - Food and Drug Administration, USA
FOE - see Friends of the Earth below
food chain - If an animal regularly eats one particular kind of food, any poisons in that food (e.g. from the environment) will tend to concentrate in the body of the eater. If that animal in turn is eaten by another, a further concentration may take place. A food chain consists of links of this type, from simple organisms, up through plants and animals, to humans. The higher up the chain, the more a poison may be concentrated.
Friends of the Earth - international environmental campaign organisation, science-based.
FSA - Food Standards Agency, UK

G to L

GE - Genetically Engineered, similar to GM; Genetic Engineering
gene - section of DNA with a specific role in the production of a protein or proteins within a living cell, may sometimes be associated with an obvious trait in the plant or animal - see 'Hot Topics: DNA and Genes'.
gene drive - any natural or other process whereby a gene spreads more quickly than usual throughout a population (i.e. exceeding the 'normal' 50 percent rate of inheritance). At present, the term usually refers to a technique that causes a set of GM genes to replicate itself and occupy both chromosomes of a pair - so all offspring potentially inherit the GM genes. (See Hot Topics: Gene Drive'.)
gene transfer - the assimilation of a gene into a genome, particularly that of a different variety, or of a different species (by horizontal gene transfer) - see 'Hot Topics: Gene Escape'.
genetic engineering - branch of technology which involves genetic modification
genetic modification - changing the genome of a life-form by using laboratory techniques - see 'Hot Topics: Breeding versus GM'.
genome - the totality of genes in an organism / animal / plant
genome editing - see targeted mutation below
genotype - characteristics of a genome
glufosinate ammonium - main constituent of 'Liberty'® weedkiller (herbicide) which some GM crops are specially designed to tolerate without damage. See LL.
glyphosate - main constituent of 'Roundup'® weedkiller (herbicide) which some GM crops are specially designed to tolerate without damage. See RR.
GM - Genetically Modified, or Genetic Modification
GM foods - food products containing, consisting of or produced from GMOs. See 'Hot Topics: GM Food Safety Tests'.
GMHT - Genetically Modified Herbicide Tolerant - see LL, RR.
GMO - Genetically Modifed Organism
Green Party - UK (and European) political party dedicated to protection of the environment in the interests of society (i.e. clean air and water, sustainable technologies, etc).
Greenpeace - international environmental and peace campaign organisation, science-based, tactics include 'direct action'.
herbicide - weedkiller, but may also harm other plants
horizontal gene transfer - transfer of genes by some means other than the 'vertical' gene transfer of same-species reproduction. The term thus encompasses gene transfer between different species. See 'Hot Topics: Gene Escape'.
hormone - mobile chemical messenger within plant or animal
House of Commons - 'lower house' of the UK Parliament, in Westminster in London, where elected MPs debate and vote.
House of Lords - exclusive 'upper house' of the UK Parliament, in Westminster, where selected dignitaries and hereditary peers debate and vote.
insulin - a hormone produced by an animal, to help utilise sugars within the body. It is a vital medicine for many people suffering from diabetes. But GE 'human' insulin can be problematic (see 'GM In-Depth)'.
intragenic - generally, the same as cisgenic
in vitro - "in the glass" test-tube etc, artificially i.e. not  'in vivo'
in vivo - in the living organism, in the natural course of events
junk DNA - popular name for large sections of plant and animal genomes previously thought to be of no use. Research published in June 2007 and September 2012 revealed this DNA in fact plays a significant role in the human genome.
LL - 'Liberty Link'® - variety of GM plant engineered to tolerate 'Liberty'® herbicide - see glufosinate ammonium.

M to Z

MAFF - UK Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, now defunct, reconstituted as DEFRA.
marker assisted selection/breeding - A 'marker' is a distinctive string of DNA closely linked to a gene sequence associated with a desired trait. Following natural sexual reproduction, a quick DNA analysis ascertains whether the marker (and hence the trait) has been inherited or not. This saves valuable time waiting for the trait to become visible. See SMART.
MEP, MSP, MP - Member of the European / Scottish / UK Parliament
molecule - the smallest part of a substance which can exist independently; a specific group of atoms bonded together.
mutagenesis - the act of creating a mutation.
mutation - a relatively small alteration to the DNA of an organism, due to causes such as a cell malfunction, chemicals or radiation. A mutation may cause a change in the organism, with a range of possible outcomes, from benign to lethal.
nanotechnology - technology dealing with materials and systems that are manufactured on a very small scale - with sizes expressed in nanometres. (1 nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre.) Nanoparticles behave differently from normal, larger particles. See 'GM In-Depth'.
nuclease - an enzyme that can cut a strand of DNA or RNA, often targeted at a specific location/s.
ODM, oligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis - technique intended to improve the accuracy of genome editing; a type of targeted mutation.
oligonucleotide - short section of a strand of DNA or RNA.
organic - relating to methods of farming which rely primarily on natural processes and make minimal use of man-made chemicals - see Soil Association. Organic standards prohibit the use of GM. 'Organic' also relates to the chemistry associated with living organisms.
PDF - Portable Document Format, computer file type developed by Adobe Systems Inc., now often used for documents.  Acrobat Reader is available as a free download.
pharming - cultivation of crops genetically engineered to produce pharmaceuticals
phenotype - visible characteristics of an organism
plasmid - circular piece of DNA, can be used in genetic engineering - see vector.
promoter - sequence of DNA at the start of a gene, which regulates its activity
protein - see 'Hot Topics: DNA & Genes'
recombinant - resulting from the combination of different DNA molecules
recombinant DNA - often refers to genetically engineered DNA
RNA - ribonucleic acid, a long molecule similar to DNA, but generally only with a single strand. Double stranded RNA also exists (dsRNA).
RNAi - RNA interference, where double stranded RNA alters gene expression. Some GM plants use RNAi to poison insects, but it may act more widely.
RR - 'Roundup Ready'® - variety of GM plant engineered to tolerate 'Roundup'® herbicide - see glyphosate.
SCIMAC - Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops - UK industry consortium, wants to grow GM crops.
Scottish Executive - a now obsolete term referring to the devolved Scottish government, inclusive of its civil service. Elected to power in May 2007, the Scottish National Party substituted the designation "The Scottish Government".
selective breeding - breeding involving only individuals that have a desirable characteristic, in order to retain it in future generations.
SMART breeding - Selection with Markers and Advanced Reproductive Technology. See marker assisted selection.
Soil Association - UK regulatory authority on organic growing standards, non-government.
stem cell - living cell (including human) that is capable of self-renewal and is able to generate 'differentiated' cells (with a more specialised role). Stem cells serve to generate new tissue and blood.
substantial equivalence - see 'Hot Topics: GM Food Safety Tests'.
synthetic biology - area of genetic engineering which involves the construction of DNA sequences that do not exist in the natural world - see 'Hot Topics: Synthetic Biology'.
targeted mutation - mutation deliberately induced in an attempt to change or create a specific genetic trait. Has been referred to as 'genome editing'.
transgene - a gene artificially introduced by genetic engineering, from a different species (adj. transgenic; c.f. cisgenic)
TTIP, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - the proposed trade agreement between the EU and the US, widely criticised for its secrecy, and for giving corporations excessive powers.
vector - carrier (e.g. virus, plasmid) which inserts new genes into an organism
virus - smallest and simplest life-form, reproduces by inserting its genome into the cells of another life-form, often causing disease.
volunteer - an unwanted plant growing from seed which lies dormant and germinates belatedly, effectively becoming a weed within a different crop.
WHO - World Health Organisation
WTO - World Trade Organisation, regulates international trade
ZFN, zinc finger nuclease - type of synthetic nuclease used in targeted genome editing.

Full Glossaries

GM Crops Glossary (GeneWatch)
http://www.genewatch.org/article.shtml?als[cid]=405259&als[itemid]=530854
Biotechnology Glossary (Institute of Science In Society)
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Glossary.php
Hypermedia Glossary of Genetic Terms
http://www.wzw.tum.de/public-html/schlind/genglos.html

Hints + Notes

The main "brief" Glossary above is intended to quickly provide a simple explanation of a word or term - this may not be technically complete, but neither should it be incorrect.  However, if you want a more complete and accurate definition, please refer to either the Full Glossaries section or to some other dictionary of biological terms.  For the latest terms and techniques you may find GM In-Depth useful, particularly "Science Reference". Many of the books in our Resources List also have a glossary. Beware of technical terms being used loosely or incorrectly.

[Note 1] - documented in 'Don't worry it's safe to eat', Rowell (see Resources List).   Back to BSE.
[Note 2] - see GM Basics, also 'Seeds of deception', Smith (see Resources List).   Back to EMS.

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