Genetically Modified Crops


Glossary over Genetically Modified Crops

Agrifood Awareness Australia Limited

"Agrifood Awareness Australia Limited, launched in May 1999, is an industry initiative, established to increase public awareness of, and encourage informed debate about, gene technology. We believe it is critical that people have access to credible, balanced, science-based information in order to make informed decisions." (Source: AFAA website )


Allergies are inappropriate or exaggerated reactions of the immune system to substances that, in the majority of people, cause no symptoms.

Symptoms of the allergic diseases may be caused by exposure of the skin to a chemical, of the respiratory system to particles of dust or pollen (or other substances), or of the stomach and intestines to a particular food. (Source: ACAAI Allergy-Immunology Glossary  )


Amino acid(s)

An amino acid molecule has the general formula NH2CHRCOOH, where "R" is any one of a number of side groups. Amino acids are building blocks (small molecules that link together to form long chains) of proteins.

There are 20 amino acids found in proteins, called primary amino acids. Non-essential amino acids are those made by the human body, while essential amino acids are only obtained from protein in the foods that we eat. (Source: GreenFacts)



A class of natural or man-made substances, such as penicillin, that kill or inhibit the growth of some micro-organisms. (Source: GreenFacts, based on CoRIS, Glossary  )



Bacteria are a major group of micro-organisms that live in soil, water, plants, organic matter, or the bodies of animals or people. They are microscopic and mostly unicellular, with a relatively simple cell structure.

Some bacteria cause diseases such as tetanus, typhoid fever, pneumonia, syphilis, cholera, and tuberculosis.

Bacteria play a role in the decomposition of organic matter and other chemical processes. (Source: GreenFacts)



The study of the chemical processes and compounds occurring in living organisms. (Source: American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering Glossary  )


Any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof to make or modify products or processes for specific use. (Source: MA  Glossary )



A naturally occuring bacteria that produces a protein toxic to certain types of insects.

The gene inside the bacteria that is responsible for producing that toxin - the Bt gene - can be transferred to crops, thereby making them more resistant to the corresponding insect. (Source: GreenFacts, based on University of Minnesota Glossary of Biotechnology Terms   )



In agriculture, canola is a variety of the rapeseed plant from which oil is obtained.

This vegetable oil is referred to as rapeseed or canola oil and is high in mono-unsaturated fatty acid. (Source: GreenFacts)



The basic subunit of any living organism; the simplest unit that can exist as an independent living system. There are many different types of cells in complex organisms such as humans, each with specific characteristics. (Source: GreenFacts)


Cell Nucleus

The center of a cell, where [most] of the DNA, packaged in chromosomes, is contained. (Source: GreenFacts, based on Genetics Glossary  )



A set of genetically identical organisms, asexually reproduced from one ancestral organism. (Source: DG Environment Biosociety glossary  )


Common Information to European Air

Common Information to European Air (CITEAIR) is a project co-funded by the European Union’s INTERREG IIIC Programme. It was started in March 2004.

Its objective is to tackle the problems linked to poor air quality by focusing on the development of common approaches and sustainable solutions that can be applied throughout Europe.


DNA constitutes the molecules inside cells that carry genetic information and pass it from one generation to the next. (Source: NCI dictionary  )


Ecological Society of America

"The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of scientists founded in 1915 to:

  • promote ecological science by improving communication among ecologists;
  • raise the public's level of awareness of the importance of ecological science;
  • increase the resources available for the conduct of ecological science; and
  • ensure the appropriate use of ecological science in environmental decision making by enhancing communication between the ecological community and policy-makers."

The complex system of plant, animal, fungal, and microorganism communities and their associated non-living environment interacting as an ecological unit.

Ecosystems have no fixed boundaries; instead their parameters are set to the scientific, management, or policy question being examined. Depending upon the purpose of analysis, a single lake, a watershed, or an entire region could be considered an ecosystem. (Source: US EPA Glossary of Climate Change Terms   )


A protein that encourages a biochemical reaction, usually speeding it up. Organisms could not function if they had no enzymes. (Source: NHGRI NHGRI Talking Glossary of Genetic Terms  )

EurActiv is the leading internet portal fully dedicated to European public affairs. It brings together daily EU news, weekly "Update" e-mails, in-depth analysis of selected policy topics, and a directory of 10,000 names of names of people and organizations acting on the EU level, the "Guide". All content is free of charge.

EurActiv aims to "facilitate efficiency and transparency (...) by providing news monitoring, policy positions, discussion forums and contacts on selected EU affairs topics, complementing the existing institutional websites."

(Source: EurActiv website )

European Commission

"The European Commission (EC) embodies and upholds the general interest of the [European] Union and is the driving force in the Union's institutional system. Its four main roles are to propose legislation to Parliament and the Council, to administer and implement Community policies, to enforce Community law (jointly with the Court of Justice) and to negotiate international agreements, mainly those relating to trade and cooperation."

The Commission's staff is organised into 36 Directorates-General (DGs) and specialised services, such as the Environment DG and the Research DG. (Source: EC website  )

European Food Safety Authority

"Following a series of food scares in the 1990s (eg BSE, dioxins…) which undermined consumer confidence in the safety of the food chain, the European Union concluded that it needed to establish a new scientific body charged with providing independent and objective advice on food safety issues associated with the food chain. Its primary objective as set out in the White Paper on Food Safety would be to: “…contribute to a high level of consumer health protection in the area of food safety, through which consumer confidence can be restored and maintained.” The result was the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Set up provisionally in Brussels in 2002, EFSA provides independent scientific advice on all matters linked to food and feed safety - including animal health and welfare and plant protection - and provides scientific advice on nutrition in relation to Community legislation. The Authority communicates to the public in an open and transparent way on all matters within its remit. EFSA’s risk assessments provide risk managers (consisting of EU institutions with political accountability, i.e. European Commission, European Parliament and Council) with a sound scientific basis for defining policy driven legislative or regulatory measures required to ensure a high level of consumer protection with regards to food safety." (Source: EFSA website )

Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are the organic building blocks (small molecules that link together to form long chains) of fats which are used by the body for energy and tissue development. (Source: GreenFacts)



The process by which micro-organisms break down complex organic substances generally in the absence of oxygen to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. (Source: GreenFacts)


Food & Agriculture Organization

"The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. FAO is also a source of knowledge and information. We help developing countries and countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition for all. Since our founding in 1945, we have focused special attention on developing rural areas, home to 70 percent of the world's poor and hungry people. FAO's activities comprise four main areas:

  • Putting information within reach
  • Sharing policy expertise.
  • Providing a meeting place for nations.
  • Bringing knowledge to the field. "
Friends of the Earth Europe

"Friends of the Earth Europe campaigns for sustainable and just societies and for the protection of the environment, unites more than 30 national organisations with thousands of local groups and is part of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, Friends of the Earth International."

Gene flow

Exchange of genes between different, usually related, populations [through cross breeding]. Genes commonly flow back and forth among plant [populations] via transfers of pollen. (Source: Base de Dados Tropical Glossary  )



The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein. (Source: NHGRI Talking Glossary of Genetic Terms  )

Genetic cross

The deliberate breeding of two different individuals that results in offspring that carry part of the genetic material of each parent.

The parent organisms must be genetically compatible and may be from different varieties or closely related species. (Source: GreenFacts)

Genetic Engineering

The technique of removing, modifying, or adding genes to a DNA molecule [of an organism] in order to change the information it contains. By changing this information, genetic engineering changes the type or amount of proteins an organism is capable of producing, thus enabling it to make new substances or perform new functions. (Source: US Department of Agriculture, Glossary of Biotechnology terms  )


Genetic fingerprinting

This is a technique in which an individual's DNA is analysed to reveal the pattern of repetition of particular [sequences]. This pattern is claimed to be unique to the individual concerned. (Source: Biology Online )


Genetic material

Any material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin that carries genetic information and that passes it from one generation to the next.

The information contained controls reproduction, development, behaviour, etc. (Source: GreenFacts )


Genetically compatible

Refers to individuals, varieties, or species that can cross-breed. (Source: GreenFacts)


The complete set of genes of an organism.

The human genome for instance contains 30 000 to 40 000 genes. (Source: GreenFacts)


The study of genes and their function. (Source: US EPA Computational Toxicology Research Glossary  )

GEO-PIE Project

"The GEO-PIE Project [Genetically Engineered Organisms - Public Issues Education Project] was developed to create objective educational materials exploring the complex scientific and social issues associated with genetic engineering, to help readers consider those issues for themselves." (Source: WHO website )


"Greenpeace is the leading independent campaigning organization that uses non-violent direct action and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and to promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future."

Greenpeace currently focusses on eight projects :

  • Stop climate change
  • Protect ancient forests
  • Save the oceans
  • Stop whaling
  • Say no to genetic engineering
  • Stop the nuclear threat
  • Eliminate toxic chemicals
  • Encourage sustainable trade

Any chemical substance designed to kill or inhibit the growth of certain plants that are considered undesirable. (Source: GreenFacts)

Human Genome Sequencing Project

The nucleus of a human cell contains between 30 000 and 40 000 genes. This complete set is called the human genome.

The Human Genome Project (HGP) is an international 13-year research project formally begun in October 1990 to break the code of human DNA.

The project was planned to last 15 years, but rapid technological advances accelerated the completion to 2003.

Project goals were to determine the complete sequence of the 3 billion DNA subunits (bases), identify all human genes, and make them accessible for further biological study. (Source: Based on Oak Ridge National Laboratory FAQs on Human Genome Project  )

Hybrid (plant or animal)

In breeding, hybrids are plants or animals produced by the cross-breeding of two genetically different varieties or species. (Source: GreenFacts)


In-vitro selection (in plant breeding)

In vitro selection is used to screen large numbers of plants or cells for a certain characteristic, for example, salt tolerance [before growing them in the field or in glasshouses]. (Source: Ifgene  A description of cell techniques )



A substance that kills insects. (Source: FAO Glossary of biotechnology & genetic engineering  )

Institute of Science in Society

"The Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1999 by Mae-Wan Ho and Peter Saunders to work for social responsibility and sustainable approaches in science. A major part of our work is to promote critical public understanding of science and to engage both scientists and the public in open debate and discussion. ISIS has been providing inputs into the GM debate that would have been conspicuously lacking otherwise." (Source: ISIS website )


A hormone made by [certain] cells of the pancreas. Insulin controls the amount of sugar in the blood by moving it into the cells, where it can be used by the body for energy. (Source: St Jude's Children's Hospital: Medical Terminology & Drug Database  )


International Council for Science

"In order to strengthen international science for the benefit of society, ICSU mobilizes the knowledge and resources of the international science community to:

  • Identify and address major issues of importance to science and society.
  • Facilitate interaction amongst scientists across all disciplines and from all countries.
  • Promote the participation of all scientists—regardless of race, citizenship, language, political stance, or gender—in the international scientific endeavour.
  • Provide independent, authoritative advice to stimulate constructive dialogue between the scientific community and governments, civil society, and the private sector."
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications

"The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) is a not-for-profit organization that delivers the benefits of new agricultural biotechnologies to the poor in developing countries.

It aims to share these powerful technologies to those who stand to benefit from them and at the same time establish an enabling environment for their safe use." (Source: ISAAA website )


In the context of genetically modified crops, invasiveness refers to the ability of a plant to spread beyond its introduction site and become established in new locations, where it may have a deleterious effect on organisms already existing there. (Source: GreenFacts, based on FAO Glossary of biotechnology & genetic engineering  )

Low-till farming

Low till refers to an agricultural planting practice - generally using a "planter" or "seed drill" - in which disturbance of the soil is kept to a minimum. The structure of the top-soil which determines the water-holding capacity of the soil and the ease of new plants to put down roots is thus preserved. (Source: GreenFacts)


Medical News Today

Medical News Today

"Medical News Today provides the latest medical news headlines from the world of medicine and healthcare for both healthcare professionals and the general public. Medical News Today was launched in December 2003."

Mendel's principles of heredity

Two principles of heredity were formulated by Gregor Mendel in 1866, based on his observations of the characteristics of pea plants from one generation to the next. The principles were somewhat modified by subsequent genetic research. (Source: GreenFacts)



Any living organism that is too small to be seen by the naked eye such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, single-celled algae, and many types of fungi. (Source: GreenFacts)


The practise of rapidly multiplying and/or regenerating plant material to produce a large number of new genetically identical plants, using modern laboratory methods. (Source: GreenFacts )


Molecular Marker

Specific fragments of DNA that can be identified within the whole genome.


Monarch Butterfly

Large migratory American butterfly having deep orange wings with black and white markings; the larvae feed on milkweed. (Source: WordNet Princeton Glossary   )



The approximately 20 chemical elements known to be essential for the growth of living organisms, including nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and carbon. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Glossary   )



The term organic has different meanings (depending on the context):

In chemistry, "organic" refers to a chemical compound based on a hydrocarbon, i.e. a chain or a ring of carbon atoms onto which hydrogen atoms are bonded.

In agriculture, "organic" refers to a production system that excludes or limits the use of chemicals


Orphan Crops

Orphan crops are a diverse set of minor crops like tef, finger millet, yam, roots and tubers that tend to be regionally important but not traded around the world and receive no attention by research networks.

Developing countries however rely on these crops more heavily than rice and wheat that are researched heavily by private corporations. (Source: GreenFacts, based on Kevin Hansen; "Biotechnology and its role in the Development of Agriculture"   )


A toxic chemical product that kills harmful organisms (e.g., insecticides, fungicide, weedicides, rodenticides, acaricides). (Source: FAO Glossary of biotechnology & genetic engineering  )


Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology

"The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology was established in 2001 to be an independent and objective source of credible information on agricultural biotechnology for the public, media and policymakers. Funded through a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to the University of Richmond, the Initiative advocates neither for, nor against, agricultural biotechnology. Instead, the Initiative is committed to providing information and encouraging debate and dialogue so that consumers and policymakers can make their own informed decisions." (Source: PIFB website )


Study of the biological, chemical and physical activities and processes that underlie the functioning of living organisms (cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems) and their parts. (Source: GreenFacts)


A large molecule composed of one or more chains of amino acids in a specific order, formed according to genetic information.



Any compound capable of being converted into a vitamin by the body. (Source: Vitamins glossary  )


Scientific Consensus

The Scientific Consensus represents the position generally agreed upon at a given time by most scientists specialized in a given field. (Source: GreenFacts)



A group of organisms that differ from all other groups of organisms and that are capable of breeding and producing fertile offspring. This is the smallest unit of classification for plants and animals. (Source: OceanLink Glossary of Common Terms and Definitions in Marine Biology  )



A characteristic or state whereby the needs of the present and local population can be met without compromising the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs.



Able to poison or harm an organism. Toxic substances can cause adverse health effects. (Source: GreenFacts)


A toxicant produced by a living organism. (Source: IPCS )



A gene from one [organism] that has been incorporated into the genome of another organism.

Often refers to a gene that has been introduced into a multicellular organism. (Source: GreenFacts, based on FAO Glossary of biotechnology & genetic engineering )


University of Maryland AgNIC gateway

"The University of Maryland AgNIC [Agriculture Network Information Center] gateway is a guide to quality agricultural biotechnology information on the Internet. We seek to build a vital resource for researchers, information specialists, educators, and members of the public. The site is updated regularly with new content." (Source: AgNIC website )

US Food and Drug Administration

"The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. The FDA is also responsible for advancing the public health by helping to speed innovations that make medicines and foods more effective, safer, and more affordable; and helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to improve their health." (Source: US FDA website  )


Vitamins are a group of organic micronutrients that are required by the body for healthy growth, development and immune system functioning.

Certain vitamins are produced by the body but most vitamins are obtained from food or from manufactured dietary supplements. (Source: GreenFacts)


World Health Organization

"The World Health Organization  (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority on international health within the United Nations’ system. WHO experts produce health guidelines and standards, and help countries to address public health issues. WHO also supports and promotes health research. Through WHO, governments can jointly tackle global health problems and improve people’s well-being.

193 countries and two associate members are WHO’s membership. They meet every year at the World Health Assembly in Geneva to set policy for the Organization, approve the Organization’s budget, and every five years, to appoint the Director-General. Their work is supported by the 34-member Executive Board, which is elected by the Health Assembly. Six regional committees focus on health matters of a regional nature."

WHO's scientific publications are widely recognized as a reference source.

The WHO has a number of regional offices which address the specific issues of those regions.

WHO World Regional Offices
  WHO African Region  (46 countries)
  WHO European Region  (53 countries)
  WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region  (21 countries)
  WHO Region of the Americas  (35 countries)
  WHO South-East Asia Region  (11 countries)
  WHO Western Pacific Region  (27 countries)
World Trade Organization

"The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the only global international organization dealing with the rules of trade between nations. At its heart are the WTO agreements, negotiated and signed by the bulk of the world’s trading nations and ratified in their parliaments. The goal is to help producers of goods and services, exporters, and importers conduct their business." (Source: WTO website )


Single-celled micro-organism that converts its food (sugar or starch) into alcohol and carbon dioxide through fermentation.

Yeast are used for making beer, wine, cheese and some breads. When making bread, the carbon dioxide produced by yeast makes the dough rise.

Yeast needs sugar or starch and a warm environment in order to grow. (Source: GreenFacts, based on WGBY Glossary )

Other articles you might like...
Biological Diversity home
Key decisions adopted in 2018 by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity in preparation for a 2050 Biodiversity Vision for the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report published in 2020.
Single-use plastics home
Reusable tableware consistently outperforms single-use tableware in all the studies and across most environmental impact categories
Water Resources Assessments home
Water is essential for life, but humanity faces complex challenges related to increasing demand.
A-Z List
    Themes covered
    Publications A-Z

    Get involved!

    This summary is free and ad-free, as is all of our content. You can help us remain free and independant as well as to develop new ways to communicate science by becoming a Patron!