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Every science requires a special language because every science has its own ideas.
~Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715-1780)

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Term Definition
Bacillus thuringiensis

www.scq.ubc.ca/bt-corn-is-it-worth-the-riska soil bacterium used widely in agriculture — especially in organic farming and GE crops. Different strains of B. thuringiensis produce different toxins. Farmers carefully match the target pest species with a Bt toxin protein that is specific for that insect. Bt crops genetically engineered to contain these specific toxins can greatly reduce the application levels of broad-spectrum pesticides, and thus help maintain populations of beneficial insects, which are not harmed by the toxin.

banana republic

a government that, in return for kickbacks, abets the exploitation of its citizens by corporations employing large-scale plantation agriculture.

basic research
fundamental or pure research

research performed simply to advance knowledge. It is exploratory and often motivated by the researcher's curiosity and intuition. Basic research is conducted without any practical end in mind, although results often have practical applications.

big ag
industrial agriculture

an undefined, seemingly pejorative term for modern agriculture. There is no real definition of what “big” (or “industrial”) means, or even what would constitute its opposite.

BioCassava Plus

an international team of scientists funded by Grand Challenges in Global Health working to reduce malnutrition by delivering a more nutritious and marketable, biofortified cassava variety to the 250 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who rely on cassava as their staple food.


biochar by UF IFASa form of charcoal made from heating biomass such as rice husks and farm manure in the absence of oxygen. Biochar may improve soil fertility and sequester carbon. In addition, biochar’s oil and gas byproducts can be used as biofuels.


the degree of variation of life forms within a given species, ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. In plants as in other organisms, greater biodiversity implies greater health. Genetic uniformity increases the potential for crop vulnerability to new pests and stresses. Germplasm conservation gives us the sustained ability to develop new plant cultivars than can resist these pests, diseases, and environmental stresses. Wild ancestors and relatives are the keys to genetic diversity.

"In calling for a stop to the destruction, it is the losses themselves that count, not a putative cliff that humans will fall off of somewhere down the road." G David Tilman

biodynamic agriculture

Demeter Biodynamica farming system that focuses on building soil humus and using natural products as plant nutrients and pesticides. Organic and biodynamic agriculture are very similar, and both concepts arose in the early 20th century in reaction to harmful preindustrial era farming practices. The biodynamic approach emphasizes the interrelationship of soil, plants, and animals as a self-nourishing system, and considers astrological influences (crops are often planted, pruned and harvested according to lunar cycles). The Demeter certification program, established 1928, was the first ecological label for organically produced foods. Demeter International is now the largest certification organization for biodynamic agriculture, and is used in over 50 countries to verify that biodynamic products meet international standards in production and processing. See also organic agriculture, permaculture.


a process by which nutrients levels in plants are increased, either through classical breeding or molecular breeding. Classical breeding, precision breeding, and reverse breeding approaches, however, are highly limited by intraspecific diversity; genetic engineering approaches do not face this constraint. See also golden rice and BioCassava Plus.


solid, liquid, or gaseous fuels derived from plants and algae. Three common strategies are used to produce liquid biofuels. 1. Biodiesel is made by chemically reacting oils from crops like soybean or algae with methanol. 2. Bioethanol is made by fermenting sugars or starches from crops like sugar cane and corn. 3. Cellulosic ethanol is made by gasifying (or more recently by fermenting) plant waste or nonfood crops. Biofuels made from crop waste or from perennial plants grown on degraded and abandoned agricultural lands offer immediate and sustained greenhouse gas advantages. See also feedstocks.

biological control

the use of natural enemies like predators, parasites, pathogens, and competitors to control pests and their damage as part of integrated pest management strategies.


the study of living organisms.


OSU: algae for biofuelmaterial derived from plants, animals, and their byproducts. The carbon used to make biomass is absorbed from the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) by photosynthetic organisms like plants and algae, using energy from the sun. (Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas are also derived from biological material; however, this material absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere many millions of years ago.) See also feedstocks, biofuels.


drugs produced by biopharming. Pros include the potential to produce large quantities of cheap vaccines or other important pharmaceutical products like insulin. Also, drugs made this way may have greater efficacy and fewer side effects than the small organic molecules often used as pharmaceuticals, because their action can be targeted precisely toward the cause of a disease rather than the treatment of symptoms. Cons include concerns about biopharmed crops contaminating food crops.


the use of genetic engineering to insert genes coding for pharmaceuticals into plants that would otherwise not express those genes.  GE plants make the pharmaceuticals (recombinant proteins or their metabolic products) in large quantities.  Sometimes it's even possible for the drug to be taken by eating the plant itself (e.g. vaccination by banana).


any process that uses bacteria, algae, fungi or plants to return an environment altered by contaminants to its original condition. Bioremediating organisms, often developed through genetic engineering, can disarm contaminants (e.g. chlorinated pesticides), concentrate them for disposal (e.g. heavy metals), or break them down (e.g. oil spills).


Fermented by Naughtorious.com

Biotechnology is the fusion of biology and technology to support human nutrition, shelter, health and environment. Early biotechnologists genetically improved plants and animals during domestication and pre-scientific breeding. They also used yeast to make bread and wine, and bacteria and animal enzymes (rennet) to make cheese. Now molecularly bred and genetically engineered (GE) yeast and bacteria produce substances like insulin and antibiotics, GE plants reduce pesticide use and pest damage and are pharmed for medicines and industrial products like plastics, and GE organisms can be used to clean up the environment (bioremediation). Biotechnology underlies many diagnostic tests and medical therapies, and aids biofuel crop breeding and production. While scientists consider biotechnology as a broad array of technologies and do not equate it with GE per se, the public often views GE and biotechnology synonymously.  

black sigatoka
black leaf streak

a leaf spot disease caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis, now on the rise and severely threatening the future of Cavendish banana cultivation.

Bt brinjal
Bt eggplant

eggplanteggplant genetically engineered to contain a pesticide (a Bt toxin) specific to the Eggplant Fruit and Shoot Borer, a pest that causes devastating crop damage in countries throughout tropical Asia and Africa. Farmers growing Bt brinjal achieve good yields without applying toxic pesticides or harming beneficial insects. Bt brinjal is India's first genetically engineered crop plant.

Bt corn

corn genetically engineered to contain a pesticide (a Bt toxin) specific to corn boring insect species. By planting Bt corn, farmers often decrease yield losses that were formerly tolerated. In addition to the direct environmental benefit of reducing pesticide use, planting Bt corn has the indirect health benefit of lowering mycotoxin levels in the harvested grain.

Bt cotton

cotton genetically engineered to contain a pesticide (a Bt toxin) specific to the cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera), an agricultural pest that causes five billion US dollars worth of crop damage each year and serious distress to farmers in countries like India. By planting Bt cotton, farmers can significantly reduce the application levels of broad-spectrum pesticides, thus helping to maintain populations of beneficial insects, which are not harmed by the toxin.

Bt toxin

a pest-specific protein toxin produced by the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (different strains of B. thuringiensis produce different toxins specific to different pest species). Bt toxins have been used as pest control agents in organic agriculture for more than 50 years. These proteins can also be expressed in crop plants like cotton and corn. Bt crops can greatly reduce the application levels of broad-spectrum pesticides, and thus help maintain populations of beneficial insects, which are not harmed by the toxin. Bt crops often decrease yield losses that were previously tolerated.

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