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Science and Research

Glossary

This glossary was developed to help you understand the terms used in the field of biotechnology. It has definitions of terms used throughout the biotechnology topic Web pages.

A

2D PAGE
Two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. The most common technique for protein separation. Proteins are separated in one dimension according to their size, and in the second dimension, according to their charge (that is, their isolectric point). After separation, the gel is stained so that protein spots can be seen.
22q deletion syndrome
A syndrome associated with a small deletion (missing section of DNA) on chromosome 22.
Act
A law made by Parliament or a provincial legislature. The process of making an Act of Parliament begins with the introduction of a proposed Act, or bill, in one of the two houses of Parliament (the Senate or the House of Commons). A bill becomes an Act if it is passed (approved) by both houses and receives royal assent.
Allele
A form of a gene. We inherit one allele of a gene from our mother and the other allele from our father. These two alleles can be the same (homozygous) or they can be different (heterozygous).
Allele-specific oligonucleotide hybridization
The use of an oligonucleotide probe to determine which of the two alternative nucleotide sequences is contained in a DNA molecule.
Amino acid
The building block of proteins. The messenger RNA tells the cell what amino acids are needed and what order they must be arranged in to build a particular protein. There are 20 different amino acids used in the human body.
Amniocentesis
A procedure used in prenatal diagnosis to look at the chromosomes of the developing fetus. A flexible needle is inserted into the mother's uterus through the abdomen to remove a sample of the fluid surrounding the fetus (amniotic fluid). This sample can then be analysed by karyotype to look for changes in the chromosomes. The procedure can be done after 15 weeks of pregnancy. There is a 0.5% risk of miscarriage associated with this procedure, which means one in 200 women will miscarry following this procedure.
Aneuploid
A cell where the total number of chromosomes is not an exact multiple of 23. The haploid number of chromosomes is 23, which is found in the egg and sperm cells. The diploid number is 46, which results from the joining of the egg and sperm. The triploid state of 69 chromosomes rarely occurs and is not compatible with life. The most common aneuploid numbers are 45 (one chromosome is missing) and 47 (one chromosome is added).
Antibiotic
A natural or synthetic chemical that is used to kill bacteria in order to treat diseases in humans and animals.
Antibiotic resistance
The ability of bacteria to tolerate an antibiotic and survive being exposed to it. Bacteria may develop this resistance naturally after being exposed to it over many years.
Antibody
A protein made by the immune system that is specific to an antigen. When an antibody detects this antigen in the body, it will start an immune response to rid the body of the antigen.
Antigen
A foreign substance that binds to an antibody and starts an immune response in the body.
Assay
A method for determining the presence or quantity of a component.
Assisted human reproduction (AHR)
Any activity undertaken for the purpose of facilitating human reproduction. Examples include in vitro fertilization, donor insemination and intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
Autosomal dominant
Describes a type of inheritance where an individual with a mutation in only one copy of a gene will develop the associated trait or disorder.
Autosomal recessive
Describes a type of inheritance where an individual must inherit a mutation in both copies of a gene in order to develop the associated trait or disorder.
Autosome
A chromosome that is not a sex chromosome (X or Y); chromosomes 1 through 22.

B

Bacillus thuringensis (bt)
A naturally occurring soil bacterium that makes an endotoxin that is toxic to larvae of the European corn borer (Lepidoptera). The gene for this endotoxin has been incorporated into corn to produce a genetically modified corn plant that can defend itself against the European corn borer. The endotoxin is very specific in that it only affects the corn borer larvae. It is not toxic to people, domestic animals, fish or wildlife.
Bioassay
A method of determining the effect of a compound by quantifying its effect on living organisms or their component parts.
Bioenergy
Energy choices using a wide range of biomass sources (for example, agriculture, forestry, industry and municipal waste) and conversion technologies such as fermentation (alcohol production) and co-firing (co-combustion of biomass and coal). Also identifies linkages to wider sustainable development outcomes, critical economic, environmental and security benefits (such as adding value to farm, forestry and other industries) and reducing fossil fuel use (product displacement), waste streams, emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
Bioengineering
Engineering applied to biological and medical systems, such as biomechanics, biomaterials and biosensors. Bioengineering also includes biomedical engineering, as in the development of aids or replacements for defective or missing body organs.
Bioethics (and biomedical ethics)
A discipline that studies the ethical implications of biological applications.
Biohazard
A biological agent, such as an infectious microorganism, or a condition that constitutes a threat to humans, especially in biological research or experimentation. The potential danger, risk, or harm from exposure to such an agent or condition.
Bioinformatics
The generation/creation, collection, storage (in databases), and efficient use of data/information from genomics from biological research to accomplish an objective (for example, to discover a new pharmaceutical or a new herbicide).
Biological products / Biologicals / Biologics
Any virus, therapeutic serum, toxin, antitoxin, or analogous product used in the prevention, treatment or cure of diseases or injuries in humans.
Biomass
Any organic matter, particularly available on a renewable or recurring basis such as trees and plants (residues and fibers containing cellulose or lingo-cellulose), but also poultry litter and animal residues and waste, and industrial and municipal solid waste (for example, sawdust, wood chips, paper, grass and leaf compost).
Biomedical ethics
See Bioethics.
Biosensing
Technology for the detection of a wide range of chemical and biological agents, including bacteria, viruses and toxins, in the environment and humans.
Biopesticides
A product made from natural sources such as bacteria, animals or plants that is used for pest control. They tend to have less of an impact on the environment and human health because they are less toxic than conventional pesticides and usually affect only one specific pest instead of being broad-range. They can also work in low amounts, they break down quickly and when used properly, they can reduce the use of conventional pesticides while maintaining crop yields.
Biopharmaceuticals
This term is sometimes used for biologic drugs produced through rDNA technology, but essentially they also fall under the regulatory definition of a biologic.
Bioremediation
The use of organisms, usually microorganisms, to break down pollutants in soil, air or groundwater.
Biosensor
An electronic device that uses biological molecules to detect low levels of substances like proteins in the body or pollutants in water.
Biotechnology
A general term used to describe the use of biological processes to make products, in contrast to purely chemical processes. Biotechnology has been in practice for centuries and includes such traditional applications as the use of yeast in making beer, as well as modern applications like recombinant DNA techniques to improve crops.
Biotherapeutic strategy
A plan or program to contribute to the cure of disease or to general, especially mental, well-being.
Bioterrorism
The use of bacteria, viruses or toxins with the intent of causing harm to people, animals or food to achieve certain political, religious or ideological goals through intimidation.
Blastocyst stage
Four to five days after the union of the sperm and the egg, before the embryo implants in the uterus.
Blood
The fluid that circulates in the heart, arteries, capillaries and veins of a vertebrate animal carrying nourishment and oxygen to and taking away waste products from all parts of the body.
Blood components
At its subcomponent level, blood is comprised of such components as: blood cells, platelets, plasma
Blood products
Products derived from blood. These products are made from plasma like coagulation factors, plasma proteins and albumin.
BRCA1/BRCA2
Two genes that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer when they have mutations. Every human being has these two genes, which make proteins that are responsible for preventing cancer from forming. When mutations happen in these genes, the protective proteins do not work as well and the individual is then at increased risk of developing cancer. A mutation in the BRCA1/2 genes can be inherited or it can be acquired during our lifetime.

C

Cancer
A disease where cells grow out of control, often developing a tumour. Cancer cells can spread to other areas of the body and interrupt normal processes.
Carrier
An individual who has a gene mutation for a recessive disease on one allele while the other allele is normally functioning. This individual most often does not develop symptoms of the disease, but is at risk of having a child with the disease if their partner is also a carrier.
Cell
The smallest structural unit of living organisms that is able to grow and reproduce independently. The cell consists of a membrane that encloses the DNA-containing nucleus and the mitochondria, the cell's energy source.
Cellomics
A study that combines information from genomics and proteomics with the complex chemical and molecular relationships of cell components. Research about what goes on within a cell can give us valuable information about drug targets and drug development. Microarray technology is an important part of cellomics research.
Chorionic villus sampling (CVS)
A procedure used in prenatal diagnosis to look at the chromosomes of the developing fetus. A sample is removed from the chorion, which is part of the placenta and contains cells from the fetus. This sample can then be analyzed by karyotype to look for changes in the chromosomes. The procedure can be done at 10 to 12 weeks into the pregnancy. There is a 1% risk of miscarriage associated with this procedure, which means one in 100 women will miscarry following this procedure.
Chromosome
A structure found in the cell nucleus that carries the genetic information in humans and animals. It is composed of a long strand of DNA that is greatly condensed for storage. Humans have 46 chromosomes in every cell of their body except the sperm and egg cells. We inherit 23 chromosomes from our mother and 23 from our father.
Clinical trial
Medical research undertaken with informed and consenting human subjects in a controlled environment. The intent of a clinical trial is for the sponsoring company or research institution to gather information on the safety and effectiveness of new drugs or therapies before seeking approval of a procedure or product for use by the Canadian public.
Clone
A genetically identical copy of an organism or of a specific piece of DNA for use in research. See also Human clone.
Cloning
The process of creating a genetically identical copy (clone) of an animal or plant. Cloning is the process of making copies of a specific piece of DNA, usually a gene. There are two recognized forms of cloning related to humans -- reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. When geneticists speak of cloning, they do not usually mean the process of making genetically identical copies of an entire organism.
Complementary DNA (cDNA)
DNA synthesized from a messenger RNA rather than from a DNA template. This type of DNA is used for cloning or as a DNA probe for finding specific genes.
Cystic fibrosis
A hereditary disease whose symptoms usually appear shortly after birth. They include faulty digestion, breathing difficulties and respiratory infections due to mucus accumulation, and excessive loss of salt in sweat. In the past, cystic fibrosis was almost always fatal in childhood, but treatment is now so improved that patients commonly live into their 20s and beyond.
Cytogenetics
The study of the structure, function and abnormalities of human chromosomes.

D

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)
The molecule that carries the genetic information in most living organisms. It is a double-stranded helix held together by hydrogen bonds between pairs of nucleotides. The nucleotides in DNA (adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine) are arranged in different combinations to represent each gene. The genes act like recipes in that they contain the information necessary for the cell to make the corresponding proteins.
Diagnostics / Diagnostic products
A test, drug, medical device or kit used to diagnose a disease or medical condition.
Diploid
A cell with two full sets of chromosomes. In humans, the total number of chromosomes in a diploid cell is 46.
Dominant inheritance
See Autosomal dominant.
Drug Identification Number (DIN)
A number issued to a drug indicating that it is authorized for sale in Canada.

E

E. coli (Escherichia coli)
A bacterium found in the intestinal tracts of most vertebrates. It is used extensively in recombinant DNA research because it has been genetically well characterized.
Electrophoresis
A technique used to separate molecules such as DNA or proteins using an electric current. The mixture of molecules is added to one end of a gel-like medium. When a current is applied to it, the molecules will travel through the medium to the other end at different speeds depending on the charge and size of the molecule. Once the molecules are separated, the gel can be used in a blot (Southern, Northern and Western).
Embryo
Defined in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act as a human organism during the first 56 days of its development following fertilization or creation, excluding any time during which its development has been suspended. It includes any cell derived from such an organism that is used for the purpose of creating a human being.
Embryonic stem cells
Cells that are removed from the early embryo and are able to become any of the 210 cell types found in the human body. Researchers are looking at the great potential stem cells have in developing new treatments for disease and injury.
Enzymatic
Activity of an enzyme which is a substance produced by a living organism and acting as a catalyst to promote a specific biochemical reaction.
Enzyme
A protein that facilitates a biochemical reaction. Many essential reactions in the body require the help of enzymes and would not proceed on their own.
Enzyme-Linked Immuno Assays (EIA)
Enzyme-Linked Immuno Assays (EIA) are use to measure the amount of a particular substance by virtue of its binding to a specific antibody. Examples of EIA include ELISA and Western blotting.
Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
The ELISA is a fundamental tool of clinical immunology, and is used as an initial screen for HIV detection. Based on the principle of antibody-antibody interaction, this test allows for easy visualization of results and can be completed without the additional concern of radioactive materials use.
Ex vivo (testing)
The testing of a substance by exposing it to (excised) living cells (but not to the whole, multicelled organism) in order to ascertain the effect of the substance (for example, pharmaceutical) on the biochemistry of the cell.
Expression
The process of converting genetic information into RNA and protein for use in the cell. Every gene is not expressed at the same level and at the same time. Expression patterns, easily analyzed using microarray technology, can give a lot of information about the roles genes play in different situations, such as disease and health.

F

Fermentation
A process of growing microorganisms to produce various chemical or pharmaceutical compounds. Microbes are usually incubated under specific conditions in large tanks called fermenters. Fermentation is a specific type of bioprocessing.
Fetal tissue
The tissue from the unborn offspring of a human in the post-embryonic period (from eight weeks after fertilization to birth), after major structures have been outlined. Fetal tissue research is conducted using fetal tissue from cadavers to study birth anomalies, carcinogenesis, infectious disease, genetic anomalies, etc. Human fetal tissue in culture is used by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to develop vaccines, to test the efficacy and developmental malformations caused by new pharmaceutical products, and to conduct research into viruses. Emerging medical practices use fetal tissue to treat neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease. There are also other potential medical uses for fetal tissue.
Fetus
Defined in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act as a human organism during the period of its development beginning on the 57th day following fertilization or creation, excluding any time during which its development has been suspended, and ending at birth.
Food
Any substance, whether processed, semi-processed or raw, which is intended for human consumption. It includes drinks, chewing gum and any substance which has been used to manufacture, prepare or treat "food". It excludes cosmetics, tobacco and substances used only as drugs.
Food biotechnology
The application of biotechnology to the production of food.
Functional food
Ordinary food that has components or ingredients added to give it a specific medical or physiological benefit, other than a purely nutritional effect. Also known as nutraceutical.

G

Gamete
A mature reproductive cell (sperm or egg cell) that contributes to fertilization.
Gene
The basic unit of heredity, located on a chromosome. It is made up of DNA that acts as a blueprint to make a particular protein. The Human Genome Project estimates that humans have over 30,000 genes in their genome. Each one is responsible for a different part of our biology. Every human being (except identical twins) has a unique set of genes, half of which came from their mother and the other half from their father.
Gene expression
See Expression.
Gene therapy
An evolving technique used to treat genetic diseases. The medical procedure involves replacing, manipulating or supplementing non-functional genes with healthy genes so that they can function normally.
Genetic disease
A disease or condition caused by a change or mutation in a gene, or a change in the chromosomes.
Genetic engineering
The technique of removing, modifying or adding genes to a DNA molecule 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. Genetic engineering allows scientists to isolate a specific gene for a particular trait - such as resistance to insect attack - in a plant or animal, and transfer it into another plant.
Genetic mapping
A research method that collects genetic information to determine the relative position of a gene or a phenotype in the genome.
Genetic marker
A DNA sequence at a unique physical location in the genome, which varies sufficiently between individuals that its pattern of inheritance can be tracked through families and/or it can be used to distinguish among cell types. A marker may or may not be part of a gene. Markers are essential for use in linkage studies and genetic maps to help scientists to narrow down the possible location of new genes, and to discover the associations between genetic mutations and disease.
Genetic modification
A general term which refers to any intentional change to the heritable traits of an organism. This includes both traditional breeding and recombinant DNA techniques.
Genetic privacy
The freedom from unauthorized intrusion. Often referred to as the right to be let alone, it protects territorial, bodily, psychological and informational integrity and decision making. Many of these interests are directly implicated by genetic testing. Informational privacy protects the access, control and spread of personal information. Privacy is essential to maintaining relations of trust. The Supreme Court of Canada has indicated that confidential therapeutic relations enjoy some Charter protection but they are not absolute. Recognized exceptions include those authorized in law, an individual's consent or waiver of privacy, and overriding duties to third parties.
Genetic testing
A laboratory test, done most often on a blood sample, but also on cheek cells, skin cells, bone marrow, amniotic fluid or a placenta sample. It looks at a particular gene for changes, or mutations, that might confirm the diagnosis of a genetic disease or that show a predisposition to a genetic disease.
Genetic toxicology
A research field in which genetic samples from a living organism (including humans) are placed on a DNA microarray (gene chip) and tested in a computerized device for the presence of toxic substances from the environment. It is done to determine if the organism providing the sample has been exposed to specific chemicals which have caused problems such as mutations, cancer and birth defects. The study of the pattern of occurrence of such biomarkers in a sample of individuals or a community is called genetic epidemiology.
Genetically modified organism (GMO)
An organism produced from genetic engineering techniques that allow the transfer of functional genes from one organism to another, including from one species to another. Bacteria, fungi, viruses, plants, insects, fish and mammals are some examples of organisms whose genetic material has been artificially modified to change some physical property or capability. Living modified organisms (LMOs) and transgenic organisms are other terms often used instead of GMOs.
Genetics
The study of how traits are passed on in families and how genes are involved in health and disease.
Genome
All of an organism's genetic information, including all of the DNA that makes up the genes that are carried on the chromosomes.
Genomics
The study of the entire genome (chromosomes, genes and DNA) and how different genes interact with each other.
Genomics and molecular biology form the basis for modern biotechnology and, more specifically, pharmacogenomics, or the application of genetic analysis to identify potential targets for therapeutic products (drugs, vaccines).
Genotype
The genetic make-up of an individual, usually referring to a particular pair of alleles for a gene that can be related to a particular phenotype of interest.
Germ cell
A reproductive cell (sperm or egg cell), which has 23 chromosomes in humans (haploid).
See also Gamete.

H

Half-life
The time required for the decay of half of a sample of particles of a radionucleotide or elementary particle.
Haploid
A cell with one set of chromosomes. In humans, the egg and sperm cells are haploid cells and have only 23 chromosomes. Once they join during fertilization, the resulting cell will be diploid with 46 chromosomes.
Haplotype characterization
The characterization of SNPs by coherent packages (SNPs that are usually transmitted together).
Health care
Canada's health care system provides access to universal, comprehensive coverage for medically necessary hospital, inpatient and outpatient physician services. Provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the delivery of Canada's health care and hospital services; the federal government shares in the cost of these services.
Health product
Encompasses products subject to the Food and Drugs Act, and are managed along the following broad categories:
  1. Biologics (both regular and biotechnology-based products)
  2. Pharmaceuticals (both regular and biotechnology-based products)
  3. Medical devices
  4. Natural Health Products
Health surveillance
The ongoing, systematic use of routinely collected health data to guide public health action in a timely fashion. Health surveillance tracks and forecasts the occurrence of health events or determinants through ongoing data collection. It also involves the collation, analysis and interpretation of those data into a product that is disseminated to those who need to know.
Hepatocyte
Any of the polygonal epithelial parenchymatous cells of the liver that secrete bile called also hepatic cell, liver cell

Heredity
The transfer of genetic information from parents to children.
Heterozygote
An individual with two different alleles at a particular locus on a pair of chromosomes.
Homozygote
An individual with two identical alleles at a particular locus on a pair of chromosomes.
Hormones
A chemical that is made by one type of cell in the body and acts on another. Hormones act as messengers to tell the target cell to stop or start certain cellular processes.
Host genomics
The genetic makeup of a person (host or patient).
Human clone
Defined in the Assisted Human Reproduction Act as "an embryo that, as a result of the manipulation of human reproductive material or an in vitro embryo, contains a diploid set of chromosomes obtained from a single -- living or deceased - human being, foetus or embryo". The Act, which received royal assent on March 29, 2004, states that "no person shall knowingly create a human clone by using any technique, or transplant a human clone into a human being or into any non-human life form or artificial device".
Human genetics
The study of how traits are passed on in families and how genes are involved in health and disease.
Human Genome Project
An international research effort that aims to identify, map and sequence all human genes.
Human health
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Hybridization
The creation of RNA-DNA hybrids by a heating process, so that the RNA becomes associated with the complementary DNA.

I

Immune system
A network of molecules, cells and organs that work together to protect the body against infection and disease.
Immuno
Therapies and/or treatments that stimulate the immune system.
Immunodeficiency
An innate, acquired, or induced inability to develop a normal immune response.
Immunosuppression
The prevention or lessening of the immune response, for example, by irradiation or by administrating certain substances.
Immunotoxicity
The toxicity of a therapeutic agent because it could cause immune reactions or allergy.
Immunotyping
The process of screening patients specimens to identify the specific viral antigen on antigen presenting cells or detecting specific viral antibodies.
Insulin
A hormone made by the pancreas that controls the level of sugar in the blood.
Intellectual property
A form of creative endeavour that can be protected through a trademark, patent, copyright, industrial design or integrated topography. The patent system offers the only protection available for the intellectual products of research. There is increasing pressure on the patent system to patent life forms.
Interferon
A protein first recognized in animals for its action in inhibiting viral replication and inducing resistance in host cells. The interferons (IFNs) are a highly conserved family of multi-functional, species-specific, secreted proteins originally classified on the basis of cellular origin including: leucocyte IFN (alpha), fibroblastic IFN (beta) and immune IFN (gamma). Examples from each of these classes have been cloned and commercialized.

The IFNs have been reclassified based on their recognition of cell-surface receptors. In humans there are three major classes: Type I consists mainly of the original types alpha (including various isoforms) and beta; Type II consists of IFN gamma; Type III consists of IFN lambda.

The IFNs have multiple biological activities demonstrated to greater or lesser degree by the various types. These include: the induction of intracellular mechanisms having anti-viral effects (affecting viral protein synthesis) and anti-proliferative effects (affecting cell replication); the stimulation of cellular immune responses against viruses, bacteria and tumours; and, the regulation of immune and inflammatory responses.
In vitro
Describes a biological process that takes place in a laboratory instead of in a living cell or organism.
In vitro fertilization
A procedure to help infertile couples conceive. Eggs are removed from the woman and fertilized with the man's sperm in the laboratory. Fertilized eggs can then be transferred to the woman's uterus to try to establish a pregnancy or they can be frozen for future use.
In vivo
Describes a biological process that takes place in a living cell or organism.

K

Karyotype
A picture of an individual's chromosomes as seen under a microscope. The chromosomes can be identified by their unique banding patterns and arranged in order of size (1 is the largest and 22 is the smallest). The 23rd pair of chromosomes are the sex chromosomes -- a female has two X chromosomes and a male has one X and one Y chromosome. The karyotype is a test sometimes requested by a physician to look for major changes in the chromosomes, such as a change in the number (for example, trisomy or monosomy) or the structure.
Karyotyping (traditional)
A laboratory technique that allows scientists to view all of the human chromosomes at one time in black and white. It is useful for observing the number, size and shape of the chromosomes. Interpreting these karyotypes requires an expert, who might need hours to examine a single chromosome.

Spectral karyotyping, on the other hand, "paints" each pair of chromosomes in a different fluorescent colour. Even non-experts can see instances where a chromosome, painted in one colour, has a small piece of a different chromosome, painted in another colour, attached to it.

L

Legislation
A collection of written and approved laws that "guide" behaviours in society.
Legislative process
See Legislation.
Lipids
Water-insoluble (fat) biomolecules that are highly soluble in organic solvents such as chloroform. Lipids serve as "fuel" molecules in organisms, highly concentrated energy stores, "signalling" molecules, and are basic components of cell membranes.
Living modified organism (LMO)
Any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through modern biotechnology. A living organism is a biological entity that can transfer or replicate genetic material.
Locus
The position of a gene or a marker on a chromosome.

M

Marker gene
Genes that identify which plants have been successfully transformed.
Meiosis
The process of cell division in human sperm and egg cells during their development. One cell gives rise to four new daughter cells, which each has 23 chromosomes (it is haploid).
Messenger RNA (mRNA)
RNA that is complementary to the DNA of a gene and acts as a template to make the protein.
Metabolome
The quantitative complement of all the low molecular weight molecules present in cells in a particular physiological or developmental state.
Metabonomics and metabolomics
These very similar terms have arisen at about the same time in different areas of bioscience research, mainly animal biochemistry and microbial/plant biochemistry, respectively. Although both involve the multiparametric measurement of metabolites, they are not identical. Metabonomics deals with integrated, multicellular and biological systems, including communicating extracellular environments. Metabolomics deals with simple cell systems and, at least in terms of published data, mainly intracellular metabolite concentrations.
Microarray
A glass or plastic slide with many DNA spots attached to it, which allows researchers to study how many genes act and interact in different conditions.
Microbial genetics
The study of genetics in microorganisms.
Microbiology
The study of microorganisms and how they interact with the environment and other organisms.
Microorganism
An organism that is visible only under a microscope, such as protozoa, bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Mitochondria
The cell organelles responsible for energy production.
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)
The genetic material found in the mitochondria, which is different from the cell's DNA in the nucleus. Mitochondria are passed on from one generation to the next in the cytoplasm of the egg, so they are inherited from the mother.
Mitosis
The process of cell division in most cells in the human body. Mitosis results in two daughter cells that are genetically identical to each other and to the original cell.
Molecular Pharming
The application of biotechnology to produce selected pharmaceutical compounds or other health or industrial compounds within a living organism (for example, microbe, agricultural crop, livestock).

Pharming: The manufacture of medical products from genetically modified plants or animals.
Molecular genetics
The study of the molecular structure and function of genes.
Monitoring
Activities conducted to measure levels, concentrations or quantities of material and the use of these measurement results to evaluate potential exposures and doses, and to determine existing environmental conditions, pollutant levels (rates) and effects on species in the environment.
Monoclonal antibodies
Antibodies derived from a single source (a group of cloned cells) and recognize only one kind of antigen. They are made in the laboratory from hybridoma cells, hybrids of antibody-producing cells and immortal cancer cells.
Monosomy
One chromosome of a pair is missing. In humans, this would result in a total of 45 chromosomes. An example of monosomy is 45, X, also known as Turner syndrome.
Moratorium
A temporary prohibition or suspension of an activity.
Mosaicism
The presence of two or more cell populations that have a different genetic or chromosomal makeup in a single individual or tissue.
Multifactorial
Describes a trait that is determined by the interaction of multiple genetic and environmental factors.
Mutagenisis
The formation or development of a mutation.
Mutation
A change in the DNA sequence that can interfere with protein production. A mutation can arise in a germ cell and be passed on to an individual's children, who will then carry it in every cell of their body. A mutation can also arise in one cell in the body, such as a skin or heart cell. Mutations like these can lead to cancer if they interrupt the cell cycle.

N

Nanotechnology
A precise molecule-by-molecule control of products and byproducts in the development of functional structures.

From the Latin nanus = "dwarf", so it literally means "dwarf technology". The word was originally coined by Norio Taniguchi in 1974, to refer to high precision machining. However, Richard Feynman and K. Eric Drexler later popularized the concept of nanotechnology as a new and developing technology in which humans manipulate objects whose dimensions are approximately 1 to 100 nanometers. Theoretically, it is possible that in the future a variety of human-made "nano-assemblers" (that is, tiny [molecular] machines smaller than a grain of sand) could manufacture those things that are produced in factories today. For example, enzyme molecules function essentially as jigs and machine tools to shape large molecules as they are formed in biochemical reactions. The technology also encompasses biochips, biosensors and manipulating atoms and molecules in order to form (build) bigger, but still microscopic functional structures and machines.
Notice of Compliance
Once a product submission has been reviewed, assessed and deemed by Health Canada to meet the Food and Drug Regulations it is given a Notice of Compliance. Health Canada concludes that the benefits of the health product outweigh the risks and that the risks can be mitigated and/or managed, Health Canada provides the manufacturer with a market authorization to sell the product in Canada.
Novel food
  1. a substance, including a microorganism, that does not have a history of safe use as a food;
  2. a food that has been manufactured, prepared, preserved or packaged by a process that has not been applied before to that food, and causes the food to undergo a major change; or
  3. a food that is derived from a plant, animal or microorganism that has been genetically modified.
Novel trait in a plant
A plant with characteristics not normally found in that species in which the new characteristic has been created through specific genetic manipulation, transformation, mutation, etc.
Nucleotides
The substances that make up the chromosomes and the genes.
Nucleus
The structure in eukaryotic cells (cells with a true nucleus) that contains the cellular DNA.
Nutraceutical
A product isolated or purified from food that is generally sold in medicinal forms not usually associated with food. A nutraceutical has been demonstrated to have a physiological benefit or provide protection against chronic disease.

O

Oncogene
A gene that has the potential to make a normal cell become cancerous.
Oncology
The study of tumours.
Organism
A living thing that can function independently.

P

Patent
A government grant giving exclusive rights to the inventor to make, use or sell an invention for a period of 20 years from the date when a patent application is filed. Patents are granted for products and processes that are considered new, workable and ingenious - that is, novel, useful and inventive - or for useful improvements to some existing invention.
Patenting life
See also Patent.

One still unresolved court case involves a claim that a life form that has been genetically modified (the so-called "oncomouse," which has been modified to make it more genetically susceptible to cancer) should be able to hold a patent.

The Canadian Patent Office has a policy of not granting patents on "higher life forms", plants or animals beyond the level of a microorganism. The issue the courts are considering is whether or not a particular, modified life form may be considered intellectual property -- the access to and use of which would be protected through trademark, patent or copyright. A related area is bioprospecting, a type of research in which investigators look for biological and genetic information about plants, animals or humans that may have the potential to be sold as scientific, medical, industrial or consumer products.
Pathogen
An agent that causes disease, especially a living microorganism such as a bacterium or fungus.
Pesticide
A broad term that defines all chemical substances used to control insects, diseases, weeds, fungi and other "pests" on plants, fruits, vegetables and animals, and in buildings. Fungicides, herbicides, sanitizers, growth regulators, rodenticides, soil fumigants and insecticides are all pesticides.
Pharmaceutical
A medical drug.
Pharmacodynamics
The study of how drugs achieve their therapeutic effect.
Pharmacogenetics and Pharmacogenomics
These two terms, which relate to the role of genetics in pharmaceutical research, are often used interchangeably. Pharmacogenetics is the study of genetic differences among individuals that relate to drug response. Pharmacogenomics is the study of variability in the expression of individual genes that relate to disease susceptibility and drug response at the cellular, tissue, individual and population level.

A major objective of pharmacogenomics is the development of innovative classes of targeted drugs and vaccines designed to affect highly specific processes in the body while minimizing side effects. A related area is biopharmaceuticals, whereby transgenic techniques are used to insert therapeutic properties, including vaccines, into foods, potentially replacing pills and syringe injections.
Pharmacokinetics
The study of how drugs are absorbed, distributed and cleared from the body.
Phenotype
A set of observable physical characteristics of an organism.
Plant genetics
The study of genetics in plants.
Plant Molecular Farming (PMF)
This technique involves using genetically modified plants to produce substances that the plants typically do not produce naturally, such as industrial compounds or therapeutics
Plasmid
A DNA structure that is separate from the cell's genome and can replicate independently of the host cell. Plasmids are used in the laboratory to deliver specific DNA sequences into a cell.
Plasticity
The ability of adult-derived stem cells to be capable of developing into cells types outside of the tissue of origin (for example, human blood stem cells have been shown to differentiate into liver cells.
Platform technology
Technology that has a common starting point but diverges once it is put into actual practice.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
A laboratory method used to make many copies of a DNA fragment in minutes using an enzyme called polymerase.
Precautionary principle
A principle associated with risk management. It states that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
Prenatal
Existing or occurring before birth: prenatal medical care
Prion
A protein particle found in brain cell membranes. Changes in its structure appear to be related to infectious diseases of the nervous system, such as Creutzfeld-Jakob disease in humans, bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cows, and sheep scrapie.
Prokaryotes
Organisms whose genetic material is not enclosed by a nucleus. The most common examples are bacteria.
Proteomics
The study of the protein products of genes, protein-protein interactions and protein sub-cellular localization. Examples could include engineering of new systems to sequence proteins or study protein interactions with other proteins or DNA, developing faster and cheaper detectors, such as high-density capillaries or high throughput mass spectrometers, and developing centres with expertise and accountability for protein analysis, such as 2D protein databases.
Protein
Required for the structure, function and regulation of body cells, tissues and organs. A large molecule is made up of one or more chains of amino acids in a specific order. The order is determined by the base sequence of nucleotides in the gene coding for the protein. Each protein has unique functions. Examples are hormones, enzymes and antibodies.
Proto-oncogene
A normal gene that has the potential to become an oncogene.
Public health
The public health system in Canada is responsible for helping to protect Canadians from injury and disease and for helping them to stay healthy. A good public system means fewer people become sick or injured, and more people can live longer, healthier lives.

R

Radiopharmaceuticals
A radioactive compound used in radiotherapy or diagnosis
Recessive inheritance
See Autosomal recessive.
Recombinant DNA
The DNA formed when DNA fragments from more than one organism are spliced together in vitro.
Regulation
A law made by a person or body that has been granted (delegated) law-making authority. A regulation is used both to indicate a specific type of delegated legislation as well as to refer generically to all forms of delegated legislation. The Department of Justice issues a special number to indicate that it is a regulation. More broadly, regulation may refer to all government intervention in the lives of citizens.
Reproductive cloning
The cloning of an embryo for transplantation into a uterus with the intention of producing offspring genetically identical to the donor.
Reproductive materials
Human male or female reproductive cells (sperm or egg), and human embryos and their derivatives.
Reproductive technology
See Assisted human reproduction.
Restriction enzyme
An enzyme used to cut DNA at specific sites. The resulting fragments can then be spliced together to form recombinant DNA, which can be separated out on a gel or inserted into a plasmid.
Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP)
A change in the DNA of an organism that changes how a restriction enzyme cuts the DNA into pieces. Two or more organisms can be compared based on the pattern of their DNA fragments when they are run on a gel (by electrophoresis). If the organisms have different spaces between their restriction enzyme sites, they produce different lengths of fragments when the restriction enzyme is used to cut up the DNA. When their fragments are run on a gel, they produce different patterns because the shorter fragments will move further than the longer ones.
Retrovirus
A virus with RNA as its genetic material. When the retrovirus infects a cell, its own enzyme reverse transcriptase makes viral DNA from the RNA template. This viral DNA can then be integrated into the host cell's genome to produce more viral particles.
Ribonucleic acid (RNA)
Like DNA, a type of nucleic acid. There are three major types: messenger RNA, transfer RNA, and ribosomal RNA. All are involved in the synthesis of proteins from the information contained in the DNA molecule. Synonyms: gene splicing, genetic engineering.

S

Sequencing of DNA Molecules
The process of finding the order of nucleotides (guanine, adenine, cytosine and thymine) that make up a DNA or RNA fragment.
Sex chromosome
The 23rd pair of chromosomes in humans are the sex chromosomes. Females have two X chromosomes and males have an X and a Y chromosome.
Single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP)
Individual differences at a single nucleotide of DNA. This genotypic difference can cause a phenotypic difference in hair colour, height or response to a drug, depending on the gene.
Somatic cell
Any cell in the body except the germ cells (egg and sperm).
Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)
A cloning technique where the nucleus from an unfertilized egg is removed and replaced with the nucleus from a somatic cell. The resulting egg will carry the full complement of genetic material of the host organism. This is how Dolly the cloned sheep was produced; she was genetically identical to her "mother". This technique can be used both for reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning.
Stem cell
A fundamental cell that has the potential to develop into any of the 210 different cell types found in the human body. Human life begins with stem cells, which divide again and again and branch off into special roles, like becoming liver or heart cells. They are an important resource for disease research and for the development of new ways to treat disease.
Stem cell differentiation
The process by which a stem cell can become a specific cell type. Stem cell differentiation begins when they are exposed to certain biochemical cues - whether physiological or experimental. Biochemical cues in different parts of the body stimulate stem cells to grow into the specific cells needed in that location.

All stem cells have the capacity to differentiate, but to different degrees.

  • Totipotent stem cells can become any cell in the human body.
  • Pluripotent stem cells can become almost any cell in the human body, but they cannot become placental tissue needed for development in the human uterus.
  • Multipotent stem cells can become only a certain type of cell, such as blood cells.

Stewardship
The preservation of public good by ensuring that the social and the ethical issues related to biotechnology are addressed, and that the federal government has an effective regulatory regime and the science capacity to protect human and animal health and the environment.
Surveillance
Systematic collection, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of data (generated by the laboratory and private and public domain literature) related to the biotechnology field to assist in the planning and implementation of research, evaluation and management of risks and public health interventions and programs (if needed).

T

Template
A strand of DNA or RNA (mRNA) that specifies the base sequence of a newly synthesized strand of DNA or RNA, the two strands being complementary.
Therapeutic cloning
The cloning of an embryo for the purpose of deriving stem cells for use in research and treatment of disease.
Totipotent Stem Cells
Bone marrow cells that (when signalled) mature into both red blood cells and white blood cells. Receptors on the surface of totipotent stem cells "grasp" passing blood cell growth factors (for example, Interleukin- 7, Stem Cell Growth Factor), bringing them inside these stem cells and thus causing the maturation and differentiation into red and white blood cells. These receptors are called FLK-Z receptors.
Toxicogenomics
A fusion of genomics and toxicology disciplines intended to identify, classify and manage the latent (inherent susceptibility), incipient and overt adverse (toxic) effects on genome structure and expression levels (RNA, protein, cell/tissue/organ type) as a consequence of an organism's exposure to environmental substances (contaminants such as chemicals, drugs and micro/multicellular organisms and/or components) and stressors (for example, quality of air, climate, soil, solar radiation and water).
Trait
A characteristic of an organism.
Transcription
A process in the cell where the DNA is used as a template to make the messenger RNA.
Transfer RNA (tRNA)
RNA molecules that bind to amino acids and carry them to the ribosomes where proteins are made.
Transformation
A process by which the genetic information of an organism is changed by the addition of foreign DNA.
Transgenics
The insertion or splicing of specific genetic sequences from one species into the functioning genome of an unrelated species to transfer desired properties for human purposes. This may be viewed as a more precise form of hybridization or plant/animal breeding, with the added consideration that genetic material from species significantly different from one another is involved (for example, the insertion of genetic material from an animal into a plant or vice versa). Another possibility is the transfer of genetically controlled properties between different animal species, such as the breeding of goats whose milk yields spider silk for possible development of new structural materials.

See Genetically modified organisms and Living modified organisms.
Transplantation
The implanting of cells, tissues, or organs which have been retrieved from a living or deceased donor into a recipient.
Trisomy
The presence of an extra chromosome, in addition to the normal pair. In humans, this would result in a total of 47 chromosomes. An example of trisomy is trisomy 21, which is also known as Down syndrome.

Tumour
An abnormal benign or malignant mass of tissue that is not inflammatory, arises without obvious cause from cells of pre-existent tissue, and possesses no physiological function.

V

Vaccine
A preparation that contains an agent or its components, administered to stimulate an immune response that will protect a person from illness due to that agent. A therapeutic (treatment) vaccine is given after disease has started and is intended to reduce or arrest the progress of the disease. A preventive (prophylactic) vaccine is intended to prevent disease from starting. Agents used in vaccines may be whole-killed (inactive), live-attenuated (weakened) or artificially manufactured. It can be created using the recombinant DNA process.
Vector
A vehicle that carries foreign genes into an organism and inserts them into the organism's genome. Modified viruses are used as vectors for gene therapy.
Virus
A submicroscopic particle that can infect other organisms. It cannot reproduce on its own but infects an organism's cell in order to use that cell's reproductive machinery to create more viruses. It usually consists of a DNA or RNA genome enclosed in a protective protein coat.

X

Xenogeneic organs
Xenogeneic literally means "strange genes". Refers to genetically engineered (for example, "humanized") organs that have been grown within an animal of another species.
Xenografts
A type of tissue graft in which the donor and recipient are of different species. Also called heterographs.
Xenotransplantation
The transplantation of living cells, tissues and organs from one species to another. The term is usually used to describe animal-to-human transplants. An example is the transplant of a kidney from a pig to a human. The principal reason for medical and scientific inquiry in this area is to find alternatives to human organs and tissue transplants.
Xenosis (xenozoonoses)
A term coined from the word "xenozoonoses". It describes the transfer of infections by transplantation of xenogeneic tissues or organs. It potentially poses unique epidemiological hazards due to the efficiency of transmission of pathogens, particularly viruses, with viable, cellular grafts.