Biotech terms

Biotechnology: Any technology involving living cells or organisms. In general use, and in this series, it refers to gene-splicing technology. Synonyms: bioengineering, genetic engineering (GE) and genetic modification (GM).

Bt: Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium that produces toxins lethal to certain insects, but is considered safe for humans and other mammals. When the bacterial gene responsible for the toxin is put into crops, the plants make their own pesticide.

Clone: Genetically engineered replica of a DNA sequence. “Cloning a gene” means isolating and making copies of a gene, typically using engineered bacteria. (The more common use of “clone” means an organism derived from the DNA of a single “parent.”)

Gene: DNA segment that is the basic unit of heredity, containing instructions that cells need to make proteins, the workhorse of cell activity.

Genetically modified organism (GMO): An inexact term that refers to a life form changed through genetic engineering.

Genome: All the genetic information in an organism.

Organic foods: As defined by the U.S. government, organic animal products come from livestock that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones, while organic crops are grown without genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge or most conventional pesticides.

Processed foods: Foods altered from their raw state, typically resulting in changes in appearance, culinary characteristics, nutritional value, shelf life and structure. Examples: canned goods, cereals or crackers.

Roundup: Trade name for herbicide glyphosate made by Monsanto. Kills plants by inhibiting an enzyme made in plants but not in mammals, fish, birds or reptiles. Crops are “Roundup Ready” if they are genetically engineered to survive exposure to Roundup.

Transgene: Genetic material transferred from one organism to another through genetic engineering.