Definitions to Common Biotechology Terms

What is biotechnology?
Biotechnology is a wide-range of techniques that are used to create, improve, modify plants, animals, and microorganisms through modern molecular biology. Biotechnology enables scientists to move genes for desirable traits in ways not readily possible through traditional plant breeding. When applied to crops, biotechnology refers to any plant species or variety that has had one or more genes, often from a different species, placed into it using accepted techniques of genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is successful when the product of a gene (protein) is formed through transformation.

A misconception is that biotechnology refers only to recombinant DNA technologies. Recombinant DNA is only one of the many techniques used to derive products from organisms, plants, and parts of both for the biotechnology industry.

What is a GMO?
A GMO (genetically modified organism) is an organism, either plant or animal, that has had its genetic make-up altered through selective breeding or by a biotechnology method. This definition does not specifically apply to genetic modification through biotechnology, but instead refers to any human alteration of a genetic make-up of any organism.

What is a gene?
The fundamental physical and functional unit of heredity in all forms of life. A gene is an ordered sequence of nucleotides located in a particular position on a particular chromosome that encodes a specific functional product (i.e., a protein).

What is genetic engineering?
Genetic engineering is the manipulation of the genetic structure (genes) of an organism by man. This includes the transfer of a gene(s) from one species to an unrelated species such as Bacillus thuringiensis into a corn plant. This also includes, mutagenesis to create novel genes and gene products. Traditional plant breeding techniques also fit into the category of genetic engineering.

What is transformation?
A process by which the genetic material carried by an individual cell is altered by incorporation of exogenous DNA into its genome.

What is a transgene?
Refers to a gene or group of foreign genes, from one organism, that has been inserted into the genome of a different unrelated organism via biotechnology techniques. Transgenic crops are plants formed through the use of biotechnology (genetic engineering) that contain a transgene.

Prepared by Pete Clark and Dr. John Foster, University of Nebraska-Department of Entomology

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