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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
second-generation GE crops

contain output traits (like enhanced nutrient content) that directly benefit consumers.


a desirable trait in edible fruits with hard seeds. Plant breeders have selected and propagated seedless cultivars of many plants, including banana, eggplant, figs, and grapefruit.

selective breeding
artificial selection

Egyptian domesticated animalsthe process of breeding plants and animals for certain genetic traits or combinations of traits. Bred animals are known as breeds, while plants are known as cultigens, cultivars, or varieties. Crossbred animals are called crossbreeds, while plants are called hybrids. The term selective breeding is synonymous with artificial selection and underlies both classical breeding and molecular breeding.

short interfering RNAs (siRNAs)

small RNA molecules that down regulate gene expression by binding to messenger RNAs and thereby targeting them for enzymatic degradation.

slow drip irrigation (micro-irrigation)

an irrigation method that saves water and fertilizer by allowing water to move slowly to the roots of plants, either from the soil surface or directly to the root zone.

small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs)

small RNA molecules that facilitate the removal of exons during protein translation.

small RNAs

functional RNA molecules that are not translated into proteins, but instead exercise control over the transcription and translation of protein-coding RNAs.


the origin of a new species capable of making a living in a different way than the species from which it arose. As part of this process, the new species usually acquires some sort of barrier to genetic exchange with its parent species.


a kind of organism. Broadly speaking, a species is a related group of organisms that share a more or less distinctive form and are capable of interbreeding. See also scientific name, genus.

StarLink corn

like other varieties of Bt corn, StarLink™ was engineered to resist insect borers. Unlike the pesticidal proteins in other Bt varieties, however, the Cry9C in StarLink was modified to slow its digestion and prolong its effect in the insect gut. This change rendered the protein less digestible in the human gut as well — a significant allergy risk factor. In 1998 StarLink was therefore approved only for animal feed. When StarLink subsequently found its way into taco shells, panic ensued. Later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrated that StarLink had produced no adverse effects on the people who had consumed it. Nevertheless, StarLink was voluntarily withdrawn in 2002. Cry9C remains the only engineered protein with a potentially allergenic characteristic ever to reach market in feed or food.

stem cell technology

collecting cord blood (ucordbloodbanking.com)takes undifferentiated human cells and develops them into most any of the 220 varieties of cells in the human body.  Some researchers have high hopes for stem cell research and its ability to treat diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer's.  Along with these hopes, this research engenders fears of human cloning and concerns about the ethics of conducting scientific research on human embryos.

Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops

SISCan independent organization of diverse stakeholders developing a system for measuring sustainable performance on a local scale throughout the specialty crop supply chain.


Panthera tigris tigrismembers of a species uniquely adapted to an ecologically distinct landscape (e.g. Quercus garryana breweri and Quercus garryana semota, white oaks growing in the Siskiyou Mountains or the Sierra Nevada, respectively). In contrast, cultivars are members of a species that have been deliberately selected for according to human need (e.g. Oryza sativa indica and Oryza sativa japonica are Asian rices bred to be long or short grained, respectively). See scientific name, variety.


meeting the needs of the present while enhancing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

sustainability index

indices are metrics standardized to something we value. The SI is a measurement system for sustainable performance as regards environmental health, social equity, and economic practicality throughout crop supply chains. The SI will combine metrics from local, regional, and global scales, and allow workers — at any point along the way from farm to table — to benchmark, compare, and communicate their own performances. See sustainable agriculture.

sustainable agriculture

a farming system that is ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just — a system capable of maintaining productivity indefinitely. For several decades, a contentious and often philosophical debate about what sustainable farming practices should look like has waged. There is now a growing consensus that it would be better to define sustainability in terms of objectively quantifiable, outcome-based metrics. Thus cropping systems could be compared in terms of land use efficiency, input toxicity, and carbon and water footprints. Metrics are expressed based on output per area (e.g. bushels per acre, tons per hectare). This is important because systems that involve low inputs often lead to low land use efficiency, creating pressure to clear more land for agriculture. See also sustainability, sustainability index.

... today nearly a billion of our brothers and sisters are chronically malnourished. By 2050, Earth will be home to 9.25 billion people, mostly in developing countries. Our hard-fought dream of prosperity for all of humanity could slip through our fingers. We have about 15 years to develop a framework for sustainable land-based prosperity; after that, the demographic wave will be too big. The challenges for this framework include increased pressures on the land, decreased water resources, severe loss of biodiversity and an unfocused political will to respond. We should not go down without a fight. This is the challenge of our generation. ~Marty Matlock, 2010

sustainable biotechnology

uses biotechnology applications in industry (e.g. producing fuel, making manufacturing processes cleaner) and agriculture in ways that support a sustainable future.

synthetic chemical

a chemical compound or substance that is not produced by a living organism, prepared by chemical synthesis. In some cases a natural product is modified by a synthetic step to increase its activity or stability. See also natural chemical.

synthetic fertilizers

in the 20th century, scientists developed processes to convert atmospheric nitrogen (N2) – which is plentiful but can’t be used by plants – to ammonia (NH4) and other forms of fixed nitrogen, and to extract the phosphorus and potassium from mined ores. These ingredients are used to generate a wide range of fertilizers with various release attributes and physical properties for different application methods. See also natural fertilizers, nitrogen fertilizers.

systems agronomy

an inter-disciplinary field that focuses on the systematic study of plants used for food, fuel, feed, and fiber, from a holistic perspective.  An agronomic system includes an individual farm, its local ecosystem, and the communities affected by its farming system both locally and globally.

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