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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

under high temperatures, in the presence of oxygen, biomass can be converted to synthesis gas (syngas), which can be used as a biofuel. Gasification is more efficient than direct combustion of the original biomass, since more energy is extracted.


unit of DNA that is passed from parents to offspring. Each gene occupies a specific location on a chromosome and determines a particular characteristic (trait) by coding for a specific type of protein or functional RNA chain.

gene flow

the transfer of genes from one crop to another crop, or to wild plants, by seed or pollen. Gene flow from genetically engineered crops to organic crops can be of particular concern. See also coexistence.

gene pool

the total number of genes of every individual in an interbreeding population. See also biodiversity.

genetic engineering

genetic engineering how to from greenfacts.coma change in an organism's genes made using recombinant DNA technology. A genetically modified/engineered organism is called a GMO. (More often than not, GE crops are referred to as GM crops, but strictly speaking, all GE crops are GM, but not all GM crops are GE!) Genetic engineers transfer just a few genes at a time between organisms that are distantly related or not related at all, whereas plant breeders transfer tens of thousands of genes at a time between organisms that are closely related.  See also genetic modification.

genetic improvement

changes in the genetic makeup of crop plants and animals that improve productivity, nutrition, and resilience using the tools of selective breedingclassical breeding, or molecular breeding. The scientific priority is to contribute to improving human health and natural resource management without compromising public safety and ecological stability.

genetic marker

a DNA sequence with a known location on a chromosome that is associated with a particular trait (genetically determined characteristic).

genetic modification

a change in an organism's genes made through selective breeding, classical breeding, or molecular breeding.

genetic selection

choosing organisms with desirable genetic characteristics for propagation.  In humans, genetic selection procedures allow couples that are at risk of passing on a genetic disease to have healthy children by implanting only selected embryos.

genetic testing

allows an individual's vulnerabilities to inherited diseases to be detected.

genetically engineered crop

a plant or plant product grown and harvested extensively for subsistence or profit that contains traits encoded by one or a few newly expressed proteins. See also GMO


all of a living thing's genetic material; the entire set of hereditary instructions for building, running, and maintaining an organism, and passing life on to the next generation. Genomes are divided into chromosomes, chromosomes contain genes, and genes are made of DNA.

Imagine that the genome is a book. [In humans] there are twenty-three chapters, called chromosomes. Each chapter contains several thousand stories, called genes. Each story is made up of paragraphs, called exons, which are interrupted by advertisements called introns. Each paragraph is made up of words, called codons. Each word is written in letters called bases. ~Matt Ridley


the study of genomes. There are two basic types of genomic approaches: physical genomics, which includes mapping, sequencing, studies of genome organization, and comparisons between and among genomes; and functional genomics through which gene expression is analyzed at transcriptome (mRNA), proteome (protein), or metabolome (metabolite) levels, often using high throughput screening.


the inherited instructions an organism carries, which may or may not be expressed. See also phenotype.

plural: genera

a grouping in the classification of living organisms having one or more related species. See also scientific name.


plant hereditary material in a form that can be used for propagation (e.g. tissue samples, seeds, whole plants). A germplasm bank is an organized collection of this material (each genotype entered being called an accession) from which new cultivars may be produced.

green fluorescent protein

GloFish by msnbc.coma protein that exhibits bright green fluorescence when exposed to blue light, first isolated from a jellyfish. Fluorescent protein genes have been expressed in the cells of many different organisms. Using GFP as a reporter gene, it’s possible to visualize nearly any protein of interest in any cell or tissue of any species. In addition, the GFP gene has been used to genetically engineer biosensing organisms (e.g. fish that detect pollution by selectively fluorescing in the presence of environmental toxins). Capitalizing on the technologies that make GFP so useful to researchers, entrepreneurs within the ornamental fish trade have patented fish genetically engineered to express bright fluorescent colors continuously, and have marketed them as pets (e.g. GloFish).

Global Harvest Alliance

A US-based team of physicians and scientists with a vision of eradicating malnutrition throughout the developing world by creating low cost, nutritionally complete food crops through molecular breeding. These protein and micronutrient rich, disease and pest resistant foods will be disseminated through smallholder farmers. See also biofortification.


a broad-spectrum, systemic herbicide used to kill actively growing weeds — especially annual broadleaf weeds. Glufosinate-resistant crops are most helpful as part of integrated pest management strategies. They have fostered the use of more sustainable no-till agricultural practices. Trade names for glufosinate-containing herbicides include Ignite, Rely, Finale, Challenge, and Liberty.


a broad-spectrum, systemic herbicide used to kill actively growing weeds. Crops genetically engineered for glyphosate-resistance (Roundup Ready) have helped to increase the use of more sustainable no-till agricultural practices. Monsanto’s US patent on the glyphosate expired in 2000. Trade names for glyphosate-containing herbicides include Roundup, Buccaneer, Razor Pro, Genesis Extra, Rodeo, Aquaneat, and Aquamaster.

genetically engineered organism, transgenic organism

EU-funded researchan organism that has been changed genetically using recombinant DNA technology. Genetically Modified Organism is a misnomer since it is used to describe an organism that has been genetically engineered (genetically modified is a less specific term). Genetically engineered varieties generally express one or just a few genes that are different from their parent varieties. Most crops have not been genetically engineered for commercial production, and likely never will be. See genetic engineering, genetic modification.

For purely economic reasons, no one can afford to develop and register a commercial biotech version of most crops — even crops for which that might be very desirable (e.g. coffee). ~Steven Savage

golden rice

rice genetically engineered (two genes are added) to enable beta-carotene biosynthesis in the edible part of the grain, giving it a bright yellow color. One serving of golden rice supplies enough beta-carotene to meet 10 percent of the daily requirement for  vitamin A. Worldwide, 125 million children — particularly those in developing countries — suffer from vitamin A deficiency, causing blindness and even death. Although golden rice was developed as a humanitarian tool, it has met with significant opposition from environmental and anti-globalization activists. The golden rice project began in 1992; the rice will finally reach consumers in 2012.

green revolution

enormous gains in third world cereal crop production in the mid-20th century driven by the development of higher yielding plant varieties, the use of pesticides, and improved management techniques. The parts of the world that experienced the green revolution now have far lower rates of poverty and hunger than regions that didn’t.

greener revolution
doubly green revolution, sustainable revolution

building upon the successes and learning from the failures of the green revolution to develop sustainable farming systems. See also sustainable agriculture.

greenhouse effect

GHGs from Koshland Science Museuma process by which thermal radiation from the Earth’s surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases and is re-radiated in all directions. For over the past 200 years, the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, and land development have caused the concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere to rise significantly. These gases prevent heat from escaping to space, somewhat like the glass panels of a greenhouse. (Whereas actual greenhouses work by preventing convection currents from carrying away heat absorbed from sunlight, the atmosphere prevents heat from radiating away from the surface.) Climate change is the result of a strengthening of the greenhouse effect.

greenhouse gases

GHG emissions from New Scientistthe gases present in the earth's atmosphere that reduce heat loss into space and thereby contribute to global temperature increases through the greenhouse effect. Since the industrial revolution, human activity has sharply increased the concentration of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide. Methane has a global warming potential (GWP) 25 times greater than that of CO2, and nitrous oxide a GWP 298 times greater.

genetic use restriction technology

any kind of technology that restricts the unauthorized use of a plant variety, thus protecting intellectual property rights.

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