Glossary

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A

Amino Acid

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 different amino acids, and each one has a unique and specific chemical group, which gives it distinctive properties. The linear sequence of amino acids in a protein determines the structure and function of the protein. The sequence of amino acids in a protein, and hence protein function, are determined by the genetic code.

Synonyms: amino acids

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B

Bacterium

A single-celled organism which does not have a nucleus to store its hereditary material (DNA). Unlike plant and animal cells where the hereditary material (DNA) is linear, in bacteria, DNA is usually circular. The unique DNA characteristics of bacteria and its ability to reproduce very quickly make it ideal for use in certain biotechnology applications.

Synonyms: bacteria

Bioinformatics

The field of science in which biology, computer science and information technology merge to form a single discipline. Bioinformatics is used to test hypotheses on the function or structure of a gene or protein of interest by identifying similar sequences in better characterized organisms.

Synonyms: Bioinformatic

Biotechnology

A set of tools that uses living organisms (or parts of organisms) to make or modify a product, improve plants, trees or animals, or develop microorganisms for specific uses. Examples of biotechnology include traditional applications, such as the making of bread, cheese, wine and beer, and more modern applications to grow or culture cells for research or to make genetically modified crops for food, feed, fuel and fiber.

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C

Cell

A cell is the smallest unit of life. Each cell contains everything that it needs to function. Some organisms such as bacteria are made up of only one cell. Multicellular organisms such as plants and humans may have millions of cells.

Synonyms: cells

Codon

Group of three nucleotides.

Synonyms: codons

Crop Protection Product

A product that control weeds and provide protection against insects and disease. The EPA regulates the use of all crop protection products that are used on crops grown in the U.S.

Synonyms: Crop Protection Products

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D

DNA

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary genetic material for most living organisms. DNA is present in cells in the form of a double-stranded helix that is composed of long strands of nucleotides. The unique sequence of nucleotides within the DNA molecule stores the genetic information.

Domestication

Process by which plants or animals are changed via selective breeding by humans, in order to bring out traits that benefit humans. Plants and animals are domesticated for various uses, including food, clothing, medicine and others. Crop domestication began 10,000 years ago when humans began farming and forming societies.

Double-cross Method

Result from the cross between two different F1 hybrids, or single cross hybrids

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E

European Corn Borer

An insect — one of corn’s primary pests — that damages the ears of corn, as well as the stalks, by chewing tunnels, causing the corn plants to fall over. In recent years, the planting of genetically modified corn that is resistant to the European corn borer has helped farmers control this pest, drastically reducing the harm caused to their crop. Because of its effectiveness in controlling European corn borers and other similar pests, genetically modified corn has been adopted on about 63 percent of all U.S. corn acres.

Synonyms: European Corn Borers

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G

Gene

The unit of heredity transmitted from generation to generation during sexual or asexual reproduction. More generally, the term is used in relation to the transmission and inheritance of particular identifiable traits. The simplest gene consists of a segment of nucleic acid that encodes an individual protein or RNA.

Synonyms: Genes

Genetic Engineering

The name for certain methods used to introduce new traits or characteristics to an organism typically involving the use of recombinant DNA methods. While these techniques are sometimes referred to as "genetic modification," “genetic engineering” is considered to be a more precise term.

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)

Often used to describe organisms developed using the tools of genetic engineering. In plants, GMOs commercially available include corn (field and sweet), soybeans, sugar beets, cotton, alfalfa, papaya, squash and canola. Farmers choose to use GM seeds to reduce crop damage from weeds, diseases and insects, as well as from extreme weather conditions, such as drought.

Synonyms: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)s

Genome

The entirety of an organism’s hereditary information, containing all of the biological information needed to build and maintain a living example of that organism. An exact copy of the entire genome of the organism is in almost every cell.

Synonyms: Genomes

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H

Heterosis

the increase in growth,size,yield, or other characters in hybrids over those of the parents (also called hybrid vigor)

Hexaploid

Containing six sets of chromosomes

Synonyms: Hexaploids

Hybrid Vigor

the increase in growth,size,yield, or other characters in hybrids over those of the parents (also called heterosis).

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M

Mutagenesis

A process by which an organism is genetically changed, resulting in a mutation, which is a change in the DNA sequence of a gene. It may occur naturally, for example, due to natural exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light or chemicals; or it can happen deliberately for the purpose of increasing genetic variation of a species. Mutagensis is a commonly used tool for plant breeding, in which researchers force the mutation of a plant’s genetics, for example, by exposing seeds to chemicals or irradiation to induce changes in their DNA. More than 2,200 crop varieties have been created with mutagenesis breeding. These crops are not considered GMOs and this technique is not considered genetic engineering. In fact, varieties developed using these techniques are considered to be “conventional” varieties and are allowed in organic production systems.

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N

Nucleotide

The basic structure of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) that, when linked together, form the building blocks of DNA or RNA. They are composed of a phosphate group, a nitrogenous base, and a sugar (deoxyribose or ribose). For all types of living organisms, there are four types of bases in DNA: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). Thymine is replaced by Uracil (U) in RNA.

Synonyms: Nucleotides

Nucleus

The organelle of a plant or animal cell that contains the genetic information (DNA). A bacteria cell does not have a nucleus.

Synonyms: Nuclei

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P

Pathogen Derived Resistance

A technique used to protect plants from viruses or infection. The process introduces a plant to a mild strain of a virus to protect the plant from a more severe strain of that same or very closely related pathogen. Eventually, the plant may build resistance to the virus. This technique is similar in nature to a human vaccination, which aims to build an individual’s immunity to a virus or pathogen. Pathogen derived resistance is used to curb the negative impact viruses can have on crop production. The technique was used to make the Hawaiian papaya plant resistant to the deadly papaya ring spot virus and has been used to develop virus-resistant potatoes and squash.

Plant Breeding

The science of selecting and altering plants to increase their value by producing desirable traits such as increased quality or yield, virus resistance or increased tolerance to pests.

Plant Cell

Plant cells, like animal cells, have a nucleus that stores most of their DNA. Plant cells differ from animal cells in that plant cells contain plastids, such as the chloroplast, which assist in storing and harvesting the needed substances for the plant. Plant cells also have a rigid cell wall around the cell to help it keep its shape.

Synonyms: Plant Cells

Polyploidization

The act or process of polyploidizing, which causes a plant to become a polyploid, or a cell or organism containing more than two sets of chromosomes

Protein

Proteins are fundamental components of all living cells. Proteins are made up of one or more chains of amino acids, which are folded into a specific three-dimensional shape. They exhibit an enormous amount of chemical and structural diversity, enabling them to carry out an extraordinarily diverse range of biological functions. Proteins help us digest our food, fight infections, control body chemistry and in general, keep our bodies functioning smoothly. Expressions of proteins, or complexes of proteins, determine the traits of plants, such as herbicide tolerance or insect resistance, and even height and flower color.

Synonyms: Proteins

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R

Restriction enzyme

A restriction enzyme is a protein or protein complex that is produced by living cells and acts as a catalyst in specific biochemical reactions. A catalyst increases the rate of biochemical reaction but ultimately does not change it.

Synonyms: Restriction enzymes

RNA

RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is a chain of nucleotides that is made based on the DNA sequence. The structure of RNA is similar to the structure of DNA. RNA functions in many ways in cells, including playing the important role of carrying instructions from DNA during protein production. In certain viruses, RNA rather than DNA may carry the genetic information.

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S

Selective Breeding

The process of breeding plants (or animals) for desirable traits or for the elimination of a trait. Selective breeding has been used by humans for centuries to produce better crops. Since the 1700s, farmers and scientists have been cross-breeding plants within a species and mixing the genetic makeup of different plants together to select for new desirable traits.

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T

Transgenic Organism

Organisms that have had genes from other species inserted into their genome. Transgenic means that one or more DNA sequences from another species have been introduced by artificial means. Transgenic plants can be made by introducing foreign DNA into a variety of different tissues.

Synonyms: Transgenic Organisms

Transposon

Small piece of plant DNA that inserts itself into another place in the plant’s genome.

Synonyms: Transposons

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U

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

The USDA is a federal executive department of the U.S. It is responsible for developing and executing federal government policies relating to farming, agriculture and food. The USDA is informally known as the agriculture department. The USDA's mission is to "provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management."

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The purpose of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect and enhance the environment in the present and for future generations to the fullest extent possible under the laws enacted by Congress. The mission of the agency is to control and abate pollution in the areas of air, water, solid waste, noise, radiation and toxic substances. The mandate of the EPA is to mount an integrated, coordinated attack on environmental pollution in cooperation with state and local governments.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

One of the oldest consumer protection agencies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protects the public from unsafe foods, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics and other potential hazards. As part of the Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA annually regulates over $1 trillion worth of products, which account for one-fourth of all consumer spending in the United States. It also protects the rights and safety of patients in clinical trials of new medical products, monitors the promotional activities of drug and device manufacturers, regulates the labeling of all packaged foods and monitors the safety of the nation's blood supply.

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V

Virus

A nonliving particle with a genome consisting of DNA or RNA that is dependent on another cell to replicate.

Synonyms: Viruses

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