Biotechnology terms

Agricultural Biotechnology: A range of tools, including traditional breeding techniques, that alter living organisms, or parts of organisms, to make or modify products; improve plants or animals; or develop microorganisms for specific agricultural uses. Modern biotechnology today includes the tools of genetic engineering.

Allergen: A substance, usually a protein, that can cause an allergy or allergic reaction in the body.

Allergy: A reaction by the body's immune system after exposure to a particular substance, often a protein.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt): A soil bacterium that produces toxins that are deadly to some pests. The ability to produce Bt toxins has been engineered into some crops. See Bt crops. Biopharming: The production of pharmaceuticals such as edible vaccines and antibodies in plants or domestic animals.

Bt crops: Crops that are genetically engineered to carry a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The bacterium produces proteins that are toxic to some pests but non-toxic to humans and other mammals. Crops containing the Bt gene are able to produce this toxin, thereby providing protection for the plant. Bt corn and Bt cotton are examples of commercially available Bt crops.

Chromosome: The self-replicating genetic structure of cells, containing genes, which determines inheritance of traits. Chemically, each chromosome is composed of proteins and a long molecule of DNA.

Clone: A genetic replica of an organism created without sexual reproduction.

Cross-pollination: Fertilization of a plant with pollen from another plant. Pollen may be transferred by wind, insects, other organisms, or humans. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid): The chemical substance from which genes are made. DNA is a long, double-stranded helical molecule made up of nucleotides which are themselves composed of sugars, phosphates, and derivatives of the four bases adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T).

The sequence order of the four bases in the DNA strands determines the genetic information contained.

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA): A technique using antibodies for detecting specific proteins. Used to test for the presence of a particular genetically engineered organism.

Field trial: A test of a new technique or variety, including biotech-derived varieties, done outside the laboratory but with specific requirements on location, plot size, methodology, etc.

Gene: The fundamental physical and functional unit of heredity. A gene is typically a specific segment of a chromosome and encodes a specific functional product (such as a protein or RNA molecule).

Gene expression: The result of the activity of a gene or genes which influence the biochemistry and physiology of an organism and may change its outward appearance.

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