Research and technology Knowledge

Posted December 1999
Updated May 2002

New publication

Glossary of biotechnology and genetic engineering


Biotechnology is a generic term used to cover a very broad field of study. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, biotechnology means: "any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use."

Interpreted in this broad sense, the definition covers many of the tools and techniques that are commonplace today in agriculture and food production. If interpreted in a narrow sense that considers only the "new" DNA, molecular biology and reproductive technology, the definition covers a range of technologies, including gene manipulation, gene transfer, DNA typing and the cloning of mammals.

With the rapidity of changes occuring in the sector, the terminology is constantly evolving, and yesterday's buzzword is today's jargon, and might be tomorrow's mainstream term. The evolution of terminology has occurred so rapidly that it has been very difficult to remain abreast of its current usages. The idea for the glossary stemmed from the difficulty of communicating effectively in discussions at intergovernmental levels. On various occasions, simple differences of interpretation of terminology have threatened to de-rail negotiations of international importance.

There are numerous publications addressing the terminology of narrow disciplinary areas, but FAO was unable to find a single list that attempted to cover the broad, array of disciplines and applications germane to/associated with its mandate. Hence this glossary.

The publication "Glossary of biotechnology and genetic engineering" provides a consolidated, comprehensive and yet accessible list of terms and acronyms that are used regularly in biotechnology sensu lato and in the very broad area commonly dubbed "genetic engineering."

This glossary presents an up-to-date list of terms currently in use in biotechnology, genetic engineering and closely related fields. The terms included in the glossary have been selected from books, dictionaries, journals and abstracts dealing entirely or in part with biotechnology or allied fields with a particular focus on plant and animal genetic resources, food quality and plant protection.

It is intended to provide a convenient reference source for researchers, students, technicians, governments and the public at large. It should also be of particular value to those whose native language is not English. In addition, an attempt has been made to include terms from applied biotechnology that are important for FAO's intergovernmental activities, especially in the areas of plant and animal genetic resources, food quality and plant protection.

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