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Biotechnology is a general term used in 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, the definition considers only the "new" DNA, molecular biology and reproductive technology.

The swiftness of change in the sector means that terminology is constantly evolving and yesterday's buzzword is today's jargon and might be tomorrow's mainstream term. The rate of evolution of terminology has been such that it has been very difficult to remain abreast of current usages.

The idea for such a collection of terminology associated with the rapidly expanding fields related to or deriving from biotechnology and genetic engineering, was stimulated by the difficulty of communicating effectively in discussions at intergovernmental level. 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 swath of disciplines and applications germane to its mandate and competence. Hence this Glossary.

It tries to provide 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," with all the associated problems of usage of originally discrete technical terms in a general context by a mass media that does not discriminate, or in a legal context that requires very exact definitions.

This Glossary is an attempt to present an up-to-date list of terms currently in use in biotechnology, genetic engineering and closely allied fields. It is intended to provide a convenient reference source for researchers, students and technicians. The Glossary should also be of particular value to those whose native language is not English.

The Glossary has been prepared in response to an expressed need. Many of the terms listed in this volume are otherwise found only in published papers and books. The terms included have been selected by examination of books, dictionaries, journals and abstracts dealing entirely or in part with biotechnology or allied fields.

In addition, an attempt has been made to include terms from applied biotechnology that are important for FAO's intergovernmental activities and especially in the areas of plant and animal genetic resources, food quality and plant protection.

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