Glossary

adult stem cells
Undifferentiated cells in a tissue. These cells can grow into any of the types of specialised cells in that tissue.
allele
One of two or more alternative forms of a gene. A person may have two copies of the same allele (homozygous) or two different forms (heterozygous). Different alleles arise from changes in the base sequence of that gene through mutations. For example, the gene for eye colour has different alleles resulting in blue or brown eyes.
animal model
A laboratory animal with a specific disease that researchers experiment with to find out more about the causes of a disease, its diagnosis in humans, and to investigate or trial new treatments or preventative actions. Animal models of disease may occur naturally in an animal population, be bred using techniques such as genetic engineering, or by exposing animals to environments that induce that disease to develop.
amino acids
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 known amino acids found in living organisms. The sequence of amino acids in a protein determines its function. This sequence of amino acids is determined by the sequence of bases found in the gene coding for that protein.
amniocentesis
A procedure in which a small amount of amniotic fluid (the fluid surrounding a baby in the womb) is drawn out using a needle and syringe. Because amniotic fluid contains cells from the baby, it can be used to test for chromosomal and genetic disorders, as well as certain birth defects.
anaemia
A condition caused by a reduced number of red blood cells or haemoglobin. This results in reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, and reduced aerobic activity in body cells.
antibodies
Proteins produced by the immune system of humans and other vertebrates in response to the presence of a specific antigen.
anticoagulant
Substance that prevents blood from clotting.
anticodon
A sequence of three bases in a molecule of transfer RNA (tRNA) that binds to a complementary codon in messenger RNA (mRNA). Each anticodon designates a specific amino acid to be added to a growing polypeptide.
antigen
Any substance that stimulates the production of antibodies in the body. For example, pollen grains, dust, bacteria and viruses are recognised by the body as being foreign and it responds by producing specific antibodies to the antigen.
anthropocentrism
A view that regards humans as the central element of the universe. Proponents believe that we should only protect and replenish the environment so that it serves human purposes such as producing food and drugs, and that the fate of animals and plants are not morally significant except in terms of sustaining human wellbeing.
artificial insemination
The placement of sperm inside the female reproductive tract to improve the chances of fertilisation and pregnancy occurring. Artificial insemination is also called intrauterine insemination.
assisted reproductive technologies
Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) refer to advanced fertility techniques, such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), used to bring eggs and sperm together to help achieve pregnancy.
autosomal dominant
'Autosomal' refers to a non-sex chromosome. Autosomal dominance is when one particular form of a gene (one allele) dominates over other alleles, and is always expressed when present in an individual, whether they are homozygous or heterozygous for that allele.
avian influenza
Referred to as the "bird flu", this is a highly contagious influenza virus that can infect any bird.
Bacillus thuringiensis
A species of soil bacterium that possess genes for a group of insecticides (Bt toxins). Different strains of the bacterium produce different Bt toxins. Some organic farmers use this bacterium as an alternative to using chemicals to control pest insects. The genes for Bt toxins have been added to GM cotton plants so that the plants produce the insecticides.
bacteria
A large group of single-celled organisms that do not have organelles enclosed in membranes. Most of their DNA is located in one chromosome and the remainder in small circular plasmids. They have a cell wall composed of protein and complex carbohydrate over a plasma membrane.
baculovirus
A type of virus that specifically infects insect cells.
bagasse
The dry, fibrous residue that remains after the stalks of sugar cane have been crushed and all the juice extracted. It can be used as a source of cellulose for some paper products.
base
Part of four types of simple molecules or nucleotides (adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine) that are the sub-units (building blocks) of DNA and RNA.
base pairs
Pairs of complementary bases that form each rung of the DNA double helix. Adenine pairs with thymine and cytosine pairs with guanine.
base sequence
The order of the chemical units (bases) adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine in DNA that forms the genetic code. The sequence of the bases will determine what protein is produced.
biocide
Any chemical agent that can kill a living organism. For example, pesticides kill insects.
biocontainment
A process aimed at keeping biological organisms within a limited space or area. For example, if an outbreak of a cow disease is found on one farm, a biocontainment process would aim at stopping the disease from spreading to other farms.
biodiesel
An alternative fuel for use in diesel engines that is made from natural renewable sources such animal fats or vegetable oils, and does not contain petroleum. It has similar properties to petroleum but releases fewer environmental pollutants in its emissions. Biodiesel can be used in diesel engines with little or no modifications, either as a diesel fuel substitute, or added to petroleum-based fuels to reduce their polluting effect. Examples include oils from soybeans, rapeseed, sunflowers or animal tallow.
bioethics
The study of the ethical and moral implications of applications of biomedical research and biotechnology.
biological control
The control of a population of one organism by another organism. Generally the controlling organism is a predator or disease-causing organism of the species being controlled.
biofouling
Living organisms that attach to and start living on any object that is submerged in the sea. Commonly seen as barnacles attached to the hulls of ships or the bodies of whales.
bioremediation
The use of plants and micro-organisms to consume or otherwise help remove materials (such as toxic chemical wastes and metals) from contaminated sites (especially from soil and water). A natural process in which environmental problems are treated by the use of bacteria or other micro-organisms that break down a problem substance, such as oil, into less harmful molecules.
biotechnologists
Scientists who use biological processes to develop novel products.
biotechnology
1. A broad term generally used to describe the use of biology in industrial processes such as agriculture, brewing and drug development. The term also refers to the production of genetically modified organisms or the manufacture of products from genetically modified organisms. 2. The use of plants, animals and micro-organisms to create products or processes. Traditional applications include animal breeding, brewing beer with yeast, and cheese making with bacteria. Recent developments include the use of enzymes or bacteria in a wide range of applications, including waste management, industrial production, food production and remediation of contaminated land. Modern biotechnology also includes the use of gene technology, which allows us to move genetic material from one species to another.
biotreatment
The treatment of a waste or hazardous substance using organisms such as bacteria, fungi and protozoa (see bioremediation).
blastocyst
After a mammalian ovum is fertilised, it begins to divide. The blastocyst, an early stage of this process, consists of a fluid-filled sphere surrounded by a layer of cells. A mass of cells at one side will become the embryo. The blastocyst is formed before implantation in the uterus.
blastomere
Any of the cells in the early embryo produced as the result of cell division in the fertilised egg. A blastocyst is made up of many blastomeres.
Bt toxins
Insecticidal proteins produced by the soil micro-organism called Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt is an abbreviation of Bacillus thuringiensis.
Bt crops
Crop plants that contain genes for Bt toxins. Examples are BollgardĀ® cotton and IngardĀ® cotton.
calicivirus
The virus that causes rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD) in rabbits. It is spread by mosquitoes and fleas.
cancer
An abnormal, uncontrolled and rapid growth of cells that invade and destroy surrounding tissues. Cancer is a broad term for more than 100 diseases characterised by this growth. Cells from the tumour can break away (metastasise) and spread through the bloodstream or lymph system to other parts of the body, creating new tumours.
carbohydrate
A chemical compound that contains only carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O) and has the general formula Cx (H2O)y. Examples include sugars, starches and cellulose. Plant carbohydrates constitute a major food class and are a basic source of energy for all animals.
carrier
An individual who carries one copy of a recessive gene for a hereditary condition.
cell
The basic unit of all organisms. It is a small, water-filled compartment filled with chemicals and structures called organelles. It contains a complete copy of the organism's genome in the organelle called the nucleus, and can reproduce itself.
cell-based therapies
Involve transplanting stem cells into damaged tissues to regenerate the various cell types of that tissue. For example, bone marrow transplants are a form of cell-based therapy that have been used to treat leukaemia for more than 30 years. New stem cell research may lead to cell-based therapies to treat a range of conditions, including heart disease, spinal injuries, diabetes and Parkinson disease.
cell division
The process by which cells split into two copies of the original. The DNA of the original cell is copied and one copy sent to each cell, ensuring that both have the correct amount of DNA.
cell line
Cells that grow and divide indefinitely outside the body, and are originally derived from one cell of a specific type.
cellulose
A long-chain, branched polysaccharide that forms the cell walls of plants.
centromere
The most condensed and constricted region of a chromosome. Joins the two chromatids of the chromosome and is also the attachment point of spindle fibres during cell division when the two chromatids separate.
chemotherapy
The application of chemicals (drugs) to control the growth of cells that form a cancer.
cholesterol
A long-chain molecule that is absorbed from food in the intestine or produced in the liver. It is needed as a part of blood plasma and of cell membranes.
chromosome
A threadlike component in cells that consists of a single long molecule of DNA coated with proteins. Genes are carried on the chromosomes.
clone
A group of genes, cells or organisms derived from a common ancestor. Each clone is genetically identical.
cloning
The process of producing a genetically identical copy. Genes can be cloned, as well as cells and whole organisms. A clone is produced from one individual cell through an asexual process.
codon
A specific sequence of three adjacent bases on a strand of DNA or RNA that provides the genetic code for a particular amino acid.
congenital hypothyroidism
An inherited trait that results in reduced activity of the thyroid gland, generally due to reduced production of thyroid stimulating hormone. The trait reduces the base rate of the body's chemical reactions, and results in tissue swelling and weight gain. It can cause neurological and development problems.
coronavirus
A single-stranded RNA virus that resembles a crown when viewed under an electron microscope because of its petal-shaped projections. Of the more than 30 isolated strains of coronavirus, three or four infect humans and may cause respiratory diseases such as SARS and gastroenteritis. They are believed to cause a large percentage of all common cold cases in humans.
CSIRO
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. A government-funded organisation that carries out science research for the benefit of the community and industry.
cystic fibrosis
An inherited disease resulting in abnormal mucus secretion, which produces severe respiratory problems, incomplete digestion and increased salt secretion in sweat.
daughterless carp
Carp which only produce male fish. This slows the growth of the population with the aim of reducing overall carp numbers. Since all fish embryos start life as males, the technology works by silencing or switching off the gene responsible for stimulating the development of female embryos.
degradation
A gradual wearing down or away. Also, with regard to soil, a lowering of the nutrient content and associated ability to support continuing crop growth.
diabetes
A grouping of diseases in which either the body does not synthesise (make) insulin, or its tissues are insensitive to the insulin that is synthesised.
differentiation
The process by which cells and tissues undergo a series of changes resulting in their specialisation to a specific form or function. A differentiated cell such as a muscle cell or a skin cell contains a full set of genes of that organism, but only expresses the genes necessary for its specific function. In animals, stem cells (both embryonic and adult) are the only cells capable of undergoing differentiation to form more specialised cell types found in the body.
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid. A molecule of DNA consists of a long chain of nucleotides that are composed of deoxyribose, a 5-carbon sugar, a phosphate group linked to the bases (nucleotides) adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine. DNA contains the genetic code that controls the production of proteins in living organisms.
DNA carrier
1. Substance or particle that can transfer genes into a cell. These include viruses, liposomes (fat globules) and artificial chromosomes (sequences of DNA created in a laboratory) that can transport large amounts of DNA (see vectors).
DNA fingerprinting / profiling
A genetic tool used to compare and contrast DNA sequences using electrophoresis. DNA profiling is used in forensic science and to help in establishing parentage.
DNA polymerase
An enzyme that helps in the replication of DNA molecules.
dominant
A dominant gene will almost always be expressed and lead to a specific physical characteristic. A dominant trait will be expressed in individuals that are either homozygous or heterozygous.
double helix
Twin, parallel spirals that form the backbone of DNA. The backbone is formed from alternating sugar and phosphate groups.
Down syndrome
An inherited condition due to an extra chromosome 21, either as a third chromosome 21 or attached to chromosome 13, 14 or 15. Also called trisomy 21.
ecocentrism
The view that considers the whole environment or ecosphere as important and deserving of consideration, without giving preference to organisms such as animals and humans. It states that all elements of the environment have worth and should be valued and cared for.
electrophoresis
Using an electric charge to separate molecules in a solution or gel according to size. It is routinely used to separate fragments of DNA.
embryonic stem cells
Undifferentiated cells in an embryo that are able to multiply and become differentiated into any type of cell in the body.
endangered
A species with such a low population number that it is in danger of extinction.
environmental stewardship
The view that humans have a duty to manage and care for the whole natural environment; that we are responsible for the continued health of the whole ecosystem, not just the parts that benefit the human race. It involves integrating and applying environmental values into a process.
enzyme
A protein that acts as a catalyst, affecting the rate at which a chemical reaction occurs within a cell, without being changed or used up in the reaction.
erythropoietin
A hormone released from the kidneys and the liver in response to low oxygen concentrations in the blood. It controls the rate of red blood cell production.
ethics
A branch of philosophy that deals with morality. It is concerned with distinguishing between right and wrong human actions, both at an individual and societal level. Ethics may also apply to the rules or standards that specify how particular members of an organisation should conduct themselves.
eutrophication
Death of organisms in a lake or pond due to an overabundance of algae that consume all of the dissolved oxygen in the water. This usually happens when the water becomes rich in mineral and organic nutrients, often due to fertiliser run off from farms.
factor VIII and IX
Soluble blood proteins that form part of the cascade of the 12 reactions of blood clotting. Factor VIII deficiency is associated with haemophilia A while factor IX deficiency is associated with haemophilia B.
feral
Domestic or introduced animals living in wild conditions, or plants that have become wild.
fertilisation
The union of male and female reproductive cells (gametes) during the process of sexual reproduction to form a cell called a zygote.
fungicide
A substance or chemical that kills fungi.
gene
A sequence of DNA that either codes for the synthesis of a specific protein or has a specific regulatory function.
gene bank
A collection of cells or artificial chromosomes containing known genetic information.
gene expression
Conversion of the information coded within a gene to proteins that ultimately control all the operations in a cell.
gene mapping
The process of determining where genes are located on individual chromosomes, their position in relation to other genes and the distance between them.
gene pool
All of the genetic information, including all variations, contained within a population of a particular species at a particular time.
gene splicing
A technique used to join segments of DNA to form a new genetic combination.
gene technology
See genetic engineering.
gene testing
Methods that identify the presence, absence or mutation of a particular gene in an individual.
gene therapy
The addition of a functional gene or groups of genes to a cell using recombinant DNA techniques (see gene splicing) to correct a hereditary disease.
genetic counselling
Counselling individuals and prospective parents who are at risk of a particular genetic disease (either themselves or their potential child). Provides them and their families with education and information about genetic-related conditions such as the probabilities, dangers, diagnosis and treatment, and helps them make informed decisions.
genetic disorder
A hereditary condition that results from a defective gene or chromosome.
genetic engineering
A term covering all laboratory or industrial techniques used to alter the genetic material of organisms. These techniques assist organisms to produce new substances or perform new functions, for example increase yields of compounds already produced by the organism, form new compounds, or allow organisms to adapt to drastically altered environments.
genetic marker
A sequence of DNA with a known location on a chromosome and is known to be associated with a particular gene or trait. Some genetic markers are associated with certain diseases. Detecting these genetic markers in the blood can be used to determine whether an individual is at risk of developing the disease. They are also used as a reference point for mapping other genes.
genetic modification (GM)
Any process that alters the genetic material of living organism. This includes duplicating, deleting or inserting one or more new genes or altering the activities of an existing gene. It can be performed on microbes, plants or animals (humans included). Where this is done in humans, it is gene therapy, and only human genes are used.*
genetically modified organism (GMO)
An organism (plant, animal, bacteria, or virus) that has had its genetic material altered, either by the duplication, insertion or deletion of one or more new genes, or by changing the activities of an existing gene.*
genetic screening
Testing a population for alterations in the activity (mutations) of particular genes.
genome
All of the genetic information or hereditary material possessed by an organism.
genomics
The study of the DNA sequence of an organism. This includes the genes that code for proteins, the regulatory sequences that control the genes and the non-coding DNA segments.
genotype
The genetic makeup of an organism. The combination of genes will interact with the environment to affect the physical appearance (phenotype) of the organism .
germinate
Seeds starting to grow by putting out shoots and roots (can also apply to fungi).
germline
Germline cells are reproductive cells - the egg and the sperm. Any changes to the germline will be passed on to offspring.
germ cells
The gametes or reproductive cells (eggs and sperm), or precursor cells that will develop into eggs or sperm.
GMAC (Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee)
A government expert advisory committee that provided guidance to the government and industry on the safe and responsible development and use of gene technology in Australia before the commencement of the Gene Technology Act 2000 in June 2001.
gonad ridge
Within an embryo, the area of cells that will develop into the gonads of foetus. This usually develops around 32 days after fertilisation.
haematopoietic stem cells
Stem cells that make all the blood cells in the body. They are found in the bone marrow - the tissue that fills most bone cavities.
haemoglobin
The protein found in the blood of most vertebrates and some invertebrates that carries oxygen to the organs and tissues of the body.
haemophilia
An inherited disease that is due to a deficiency or lack of certain compounds, such as factor VIII or IX, in the blood. This results in excessive internal or external bleeding due to impaired blood clotting.
hazardous
Dangerous.
hepatitis
Liver inflammation usually caused by a virus.
herbicide
A substance that kills plants. Used in agriculture, horticulture and gardening. Can be selective (kill selected species) or non-selective (broad spectrum - kill all plants).
hereditary disorder
A pathological condition due to changes in individual genes, or groups of genes or in sections of chromosomes or whole chromosomes. These changes may be passed from parents to offspring.
heterozygous
Having two different forms of a particular gene, one inherited from each parent. For example, a person with brown eyes may also carry a gene for blue eyes.
homozygous
Having two forms of a particular gene that are the same, one inherited from each parent. For example, a person with brown eyes who carries another gene for brown eyes - two of the same forms of the eye colour gene.
hormones
Chemicals in the blood which have a messenger function within the body. They are produced by cells of an endocrine gland or by nerve cells in response to a specific nervous or chemical stimulus. They affect the metabolic function of those cells that have the appropriate receptor for the hormone.
host
An animal or plant on which, or in which, a parasite lives. While the parasite receives nourishment and support from the host, the host does not benefit and is often harmed by the association.
Human Genome Project
The project that has identified and located all of the genes in human DNA, and determined the sequences of the chemical bases that make up human DNA. This information is stored in computer databases.
human serum albumin
Soluble blood proteins that make up about 55% of plasma proteins. They are involved in maintaining fluid balance in the blood.
Huntington disease
An inherited disease due to a defective gene on the short arm of chromosome 4. It results in loss of motor control and mental deterioration. Symptoms frequently do not appear until after reproductive age, meaning the defective gene may already have been passed on to offspring when symptoms develop.
hybrid
Something of mixed origin or composition. In the case of a plant or animal, a hybrid is produced by breeding together plants or animals of different varieties, species or race. A hybrid is the offspring of genetically dissimilar parents.
hydrophilic
Literally means 'water-loving'. This can describe a molecule or part of a molecule that has an affinity for water, or a substance that readily absorbs or dissolves in water.
hydrophobic
Literally means 'water hating'. This describes a molecule or part of a molecule that prefers to be in an environment where there is no water. It means repelling, tending not to combine with, or incapable of dissolving in water.
immune response
The reaction of the body to substances that are foreign or treated as foreign. The response is in a variety of forms, from the recognition of antigens in the body, the production of antibodies against the foreign substance and the response of lymphocytes (white blood cells, T cells and B cells).
immune system
The cells, proteins (such as antibodies) and cellular activities that work together to fight off infection and provide resistance to subsequent infection.
immunocontraception
A method (not currently used) of reducing fertility of a pest species by controlling or preventing conception and pregnancy.
imprinting
Suppression or silencing of genes depending on which parent they were received from. When DNA is passed to daughter cells after fertilisation of an egg by a sperm, certain alleles can become active only if they were received from the mother, others only if they came from the father. If a gene is suppressed through imprinting from one parent, and the allele from the other parent is not expressed because of mutation, neither allele can be expressed.
infertile
Incapable of initiating, sustaining, or supporting reproduction. Alternatively, not fertilised and therefore incapable of growing and developing.
informed consent
A term describing the responsibility of doctors or researchers to ensure that patients or people have an understanding of the relevant facts regarding their care or participation in research. Consumers also have a right to practice informed consent when they buy particular foods. Informed consent relies on our having access to reliable, truthful, and complete information.
inherited
Traits or characteristics that come from one's ancestors and are transmitted from parents to offspring through genes. The traits will therefore be present at birth.
inner cell mass
Mass of cells on one side of a blastocystwhich will form the body of the embryo. This is where embryonic stem cells are taken from.
inorganic
1. Chemicals that are not organic, that is, not manufactured within living organisms. 2. Any chemical compound not based on carbon chains or rings (except oxides, sulphides of carbon and metallic carbides that are also inorganic).
insecticide
A chemical that kills insects.
input traits
Traits introduced into crop plants with the aim of lowering the cost of production and improving the performance of the crop in the field. For example: pesticide resistance, herbicide tolerance and disease resistance. This is in comparison to traits introduced into the crop to produce products with improved value. These are referred to as output traits.
 
insulin
A hormone that promotes the conversion of glucose to glycogen.
intellectual property (IP)
The content of the human intellect, or the result of intellectual effort, which is considered to be unique and original and have value in the marketplace, and therefore requires legal protection and ownership. This includes copyrighted material such as literary or artistic works, industrial processes, and trademarks and patents.
intron
A sequence of DNA, found within a gene, which is initially copied into messenger RNA but is cut out before the messenger RNA is translated and does not have a function in coding for proteins.
in vitro fertilisation (IVF)
Methods of carrying out fertilisation outside the body, frequently used to assist couples unable to conceive naturally.
karyotype
An organised profile of an individual's chromosomes.
lactoferrin
A breast milk protein that promotes infant growth.
leukaemia
An increase in the number of ineffective and immature white blood cells, causing a weakened immune system. This leaves the body susceptible to infection.
ligase
An enzyme that is used to join fragments of DNA together, for example in gene splicing.
major histocompatibility complex
A group of genes that control several aspects of the immune response. They code for markers located on the surface of all body cells and are recognised by the body as 'self' (belonging to the body). These genes define a person's tissue type and are used to determine whether a transplant would be compatible.
mammalian
The group of vertebrates that have:
  • internal development of the embryo
  • mammary glands that can produce milk
  • live-born young with a body covering of hair or fur
  • a four-chambered heart
  • a well-developed cerebral cortex
  • the ability to maintain a constant body temperature
  • a permanent set of teeth.
marker
See genetic marker.
marsupial
A mammal whose distinguishing features include the birth of young at an early foetal stage of development, and generally, a pouch (marsupium) in which further development of the foetus occurs.
melanoma
A type of cancer that begins in the melanocytes (the skin cells that produce pigments). It can spread to other areas of the body if not detected and treated early.
Mendelian inheritance
A hereditary process where genetic traits are passed from parents to offspring and are explained in terms of chromosomes separating, independent assortment of genes and the homologous exchange of segments of DNA. There are three modes of Mendelian inheritance: autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive and X-linked inheritance. Named after Gregor Mendel, who first studied and recognised the existence of genes and this method of inheritance by breeding experiments with different varieties of peas.
messenger RNA (mRNA)
An RNA molecule that specifies the amino acid sequence of a protein. It is the intermediary molecule between DNA and ribosomes. mRNA takes encoded specifications from the cell's DNA, processes the message and takes it to the ribosomes, where the amino acids are assembled into polypeptides, which are then folded into proteins.
micro-organisms
Organisms that can be seen only with the aid of a microscope. They are also known as microbes.
mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)
The genetic material of the mitochondria - the organelle that generates energy for the cell. The DNA in mitochondria is different from that in the nucleus. Many scientists believe that this DNA is the remnant of a bacterium that invaded the cell in very early evolution. MtDNA is typically passed on only from the mother during sexual reproduction, as only the nucleus of the sperm enters the egg upon fertilisation. Therefore, little change occurs in the mtDNA from generation to generation.
monosomy
The presence of only one chromosome of a pair.
mono-unsaturated
Molecules, such as fats, with only one double bond in their chemical structure. Some plant oils and margarines, avocados, olives, nuts and seeds contain mostly mono-unsaturated fats.
moral standing
To say that a group of organisms has moral standing is to say that their wellbeing must be given some consideration. It does not decide the question of whether they have the same moral standing as people (and thus have 'human' rights).
multipotent
The potential to make a few cell types in the body. Usually in reference to adult stem cells.
muscular dystrophy
A group of hereditary diseases that cause progressive muscle wastage due to defects in the biochemistry of a muscle tissue. The most common type is Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which is due to a defective gene on the X chromosome. Because the condition is sex-linked, it usually only affect males. It is usually lethal by the early 20's.
mutation
The process by which a gene undergoes a change in the base sequence. Some mutations result in the gene no longer coding for the correct protein, or producing a reduced amount of the protein.
myxoma
A virus that causes myxomatosis in rabbits. It is carried by mosquitos and fleas.
myxomatosis
A disease of rabbits caused by the myxoma virus. It is an early form of biological control.
native
Organisms that have not been recently introduced into an ecosystem.
nuclear transfer technology
A method of cloning a living organism. The process involves removing the nucleus of an egg cell and replacing it with a nucleus from any cell of the organism being cloned.
nucleus
The structure within the cell that contains the chromosomes.
nucleic acid
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) or RNA (ribonucleic acid).
nucleotide
The subunit of nucleic acids, DNA and RNA, that consists of a 5-carbon sugar, a phosphate group and a nitrogenous base. The bases are adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine in DNA and adenine, uracil, guanine and cytosine in RNA.
Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR)
A part of the Australian Department of Health and Ageing that assists the Gene Technology Regulator, a statutory office holder, to administer the Gene Technology Act 2000 (the Act). The objective of the Act is to protect the health and safety of people and to protect the environment by identifying risks posed by, or resulting from, gene technology and by managing those risks through regulating certain dealings with genetically modified organisms.
oncogene
A gene that normally directs cell growth, but when it becomes mutated, has the ability to transform a normal cell into a tumour cell through uncontrolled growth.
oncovirus
A virus associated with cancer.
organelle
A structure within a cell that performs a particular function. Examples include mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, vacuoles, chloroplasts and lysosomes. Organelles are like smaller versions of the organs in your body, each performing a particular function to keep the whole cell alive.
organism
A living thing that contains DNA and is capable of cell replication by itself; for example, bacteria, plants and animals.
output traits
Traits produced in GM crops, which are beneficial or of direct value to the consumer. For example, improving the quality of food, increasing fibre, lowering the fat content or increasing anti-oxidant levels.
parasite
An organism that lives in or on a host organism and uses it as a source of food and shelter, to the detriment of the host.
patent
A grant made by a government that allows the creator of an invention the sole right to make, use, and sell that invention for a set period of time.
pathogen
An organism or agent that causes disease. For example, bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi.
pathogenicity
The ability to cause disease.
peptide
An organic compound composed of two or more amino acids linked together chemically by peptide bonds. A component of a polypeptide.
pesticide
A chemical that kills pests.
pharming
The process of farming GM plants or animals to be used as living pharmaceutical factories. Cows, sheep, pigs, goats, rabbits and mice can be used to produce large amounts of human proteins in their milk. Plants are being used to produce vaccines and diagnostic reagents.
phenomics
The study of an overall organism and how the characteristics or traits of an organism that we can see (its phenotype) fits with the information we know about its genes (genomics) and proteins (proteomics).
phenotype
The visible characteristics or traits of an organism. Phenotypic traits are not necessarily entirely genetic and are produced by its genotype interacting with the environment.
phenylketonuria (PKU)
A hereditary disorder that results in reduced production of the liver enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase. This substance is involved in the breakdown of phenylalanine in food to tyrosine. Without a modified diet, affected infants will develop severe, irreversible brain damage.
pigments
Chemicals that are coloured. For example, the pigment melanin determines skin colouration.
plasmid
A small, circular piece of DNA found in bacteria and yeasts, which is able to replicate independently of the chromosome.
plasticity
The ability of cells or tissue and their function to be influenced by an activity and how they respond to distinct environmental conditions.
pluralism
The belief that there are multiple opinions about an issue, each of which contains part of the truth, but none that contain the whole truth.
pluripotent
The ability to produce any cell in the body. Usually used when referring to embryonic stem cells.
polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
A laboratory process in which a segment of DNA is copied multiple times using DNA polymerase.
polypeptide
A peptide containing anywhere between 10 and 100 molecules of amino acids. Peptides can either be small proteins or part of a protein. A polypeptide is the ultimate expression product of a gene, and is folded into a functional protein after it has been assembled.
polyunsaturated fat
A fat that has more than one double bond in the molecule.
polymorphism
Variation in DNA sequence among individuals.
power
The term power has quite a few different meanings. For Biotechnology Online, we are referring to an organisation or individual's ability to act effectively according to their intentions, needs, or values.
predator
Animal that kills another animal for food.
primer
A defined, short length of DNA used to start the copying process in PCR.
primordial germ cells
The precursors of reproductive cells within the embryo. They are detectable in an embryo after four weeks of development and will develop into either sperm or eggs.
processed food
Any food product that has undergone physical or chemical treatment resulting in a substantial change in the original state of the food.
protein
A long-chain molecule consisting of amino acids. The function of a protein is determined by the sequence of amino acids, which is determined by the sequence of DNA bases found in the gene coding for that protein.
protozoa
Any of a large group of single-celled, usually microscopic, organisms such as amoeba.
pseudogenes
A sequence of DNA that resembles a gene but is non functional and cannot be transcribed. It could be the remnant of a once-functional gene that has accumulated mutations.
rabies
A viral disease of wild animals that can be transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected animal. The disease has not yet been detected in Australia.
rapeseed (Brassica napus)
The seed of the rape plant, which is a source of edible oil. The rape plant is a bright yellow flowering variety of the Brassicaceae (mustard) family known as canola. It is generally grown and cultivated for animal feed, vegetable oil and biodiesel.
recessive
One of a pair of alleles that fails to be expressed in the phenotype of the organism when the dominant allele is present. Also refers to the phenotype, when an individual has only the recessive allele.
recombinant DNA
DNA formed by combining segments of DNA from different genes or different types of organisms.
regenerative medicine
New medical advances in which damaged body parts or body tissue is replaced or the body is encouraged to heal itself. From our understanding of our genes and how they work to control the growth, building and repair of our body, scientists are using regenerative medicine to study how to create new tissues for transplant, transplant stem cells into the body or how to induce the body to regenerate from the body's own cells.
reproductive cloning
Making a full living copy of an organism. Currently illegal in Australia and many other countries around the world.
restriction enzymes
An enzyme (normally derived from bacteria) that cuts strands of DNA at particular points along its length into shorter fragments.
retrovirus
A type of virus that contains RNA as its genetic material. Once in a host cell they perform a 'backwards' conversion of RNA to DNA, which inserts itself into an infected cell's own DNA. Retroviruses can cause many diseases, including some cancers and AIDS.
ribosome
Molecule in the cytoplasm of cells that coordinates the interactions between tRNAs, mRNA and proteins in the complex process of protein synthesis.
rights
Entitlements. Some rights (human rights) belong to everyone by virtue of being human; some rights (legal rights) belong to people by virtue of their belonging to a particular political state.
risk
Used as a term for a danger that arises unpredictably, such as being struck by a car.
RNA
Ribonucleic acid, a single-stranded nucleic acid that transmits genetic information from DNA to the cytoplasm and controls certain chemical processes in the cell, such as the synthesis of proteins.
RNA polymerase
The enzyme that catalyses the synthesis of a complementary strand of RNA from either a DNA strand or an RNA strand in some viruses.
safety
Freedom from danger.
SARS
Severe acute respiratory syndrome. It is caused by a virus thought to be a combination of the Coronavirus family (a virus that is often a cause of the common cold) and the paramyxovirus family (causes measles and mumps). The syndrome includes fever and coughing or difficulty breathing, and can be fatal. It is thought to have originated in mainland China in 2003 and has spread to other countries.
saturated fat
A fat that has only single bonds in the molecule.
selective breeding
A process in which new or improved strains of plants or animals are developed, mainly through controlled mating or crossing and selection of progeny for desired traits.
self-renewal
The ability of stem cells to continue to divide and replenish themselves indefinitely.
sequencing
Determining the order of bases in a length of DNA. Provides information on where genes start and stop and where mutations or changes have occurred. It also allows you to translate the sequence of bases within a gene into what amino acids it codes for, and therefore what protein is produced.
sex chromosomes
One of the two chromosomes that specify the sex of an organism. Humans have two kinds of sex chromosomes; X and Y. Normal females possess two X chromosomes and normal males possess one X and one Y.
silencing
A technique to stop or interrupt the expression of a particular gene, most commonly by the insertion of a reverse copy of all or part of that gene.
single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP)
A change in a single nucleotide (A, T, C, or G) in a gene sequence, which causes a change in expression of the gene in the individual's phenotype.
social hierarchy
An arrangement within a group of animals, such as rabbits, where some individuals are dominant over others. The more dominant an animal, the more likely it is to have preferred access to mates and sources of food.
somatic cells
Any cell in a body other than a germ cell.
species-specific
Pertaining to individuals of only one species. For example, a pesticide that is species-specific affects only one species.
staple length
The length of the individual fibres of cotton. Affects the quality of the fabric that is made from it.
sterile
Incapable of reproduction. Not able to germinate or bear fruit.
STR (short tandem repeats)
Short DNA sequences that are repeated in a head-to-tail manner. They are useful in DNA profiling.
surrogate
A person or animal that functions as a substitute for another. In the case of a surrogate mother, a woman or female animal carries an embryo and ultimately gives birth to a baby that was formed from the egg of another female.
sustainable development
An approach to development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It seeks to ensure that current development does not alter the environment's ability to recover from any damage sustained, and also makes use of renewable resources.
Tay-Sachs disease
A lethal hereditary disease. The progressive accumulation of a substance called ganglioside in the brain causes paralysis, mental deterioration and blindness. Death usually occurs before the age of four.
thalassaemia
A hereditary anaemia resulting from reduced production of either alpha or beta haemoglobin. Depending on the type, the condition can be fatal before or just after birth, or can result in varying levels of anaemia and development difficulties.
therapeutic cloning
Generally referred to as somatic cell nuclear transfer technology. It involves replacing the nucleus of an egg cell with the nucleus from a cell from a patient's body and allowing it to develop to form a blastocyst. The embryonic stem cells from the inner cell mass are then harvested and used to establish a cell line that has the same genetic makeup of the patient. These cells can then be directed to develop into the tissue needed for transplant.
tissue culture
The separation of cells from each other and their growth in a container of liquid nutrients.
totipotent
Cells capable of forming a completely new embryo that can develop into a new organism. For example, a fertilised egg is totipotent.
toxic
Poisonous.
trait
A feature that is genetically controlled.
transgenic
Refers to an organism with one or more genes that have been transferred to it from another organism using recombinant DNA techniques. See also GMO.
trisomy
Having three copies of a particular chromosome in each somatic (body) cell instead of the normal two copies. This leads to certain conditions, for example Down syndrome (trisomy 21) or Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18).
unspecialised
Having no specific function.
vaccine
A preparation that contains either whole disease-causing organisms such as viruses which have been killed or weakened, or parts of such organisms, used to confer immunity against the disease that the organisms cause. Vaccine preparations can be natural, synthetic or derived by recombinant DNA technology.
value-added traits
Modified crops produced with traits such as improved taste, nutritional value, or utility to provide value for the consumer.
vector
Something used as a vehicle for transfer.
  1. A bacteriophage, plasmid, or other agent that transfers genetic material from one cell to another. It can often be used carry foreign DNA into a host cell.
  2. A disease vector is an agent that transfers a pathogen from one organism to another, for example, an insect.
virus
A group of particles that do not have a cellular structure and cannot replicate outside of a host cell. They consist of a molecule of DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coat. Viruses can only reproduce in living cells.
xenotransplantation
The term used to describe any procedure that involves the transplantation of live cells, tissues, or organs from one species to another, including animal-to-human transplantation.

*for a full definition please see the Gene Technology Act 2000 and the Gene Technology Regulations 2001.