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Some Terms You should Know

A number of new terms have been creeping into or deliberately introduced into,  the current communications on biotechnology.   With the use of acronyms for most of them, understanding information is becoming increasingly difficult.   Being familiar with these terms will make things clearer.   Since the entire terminology cannot be given at one go, the FBAE will randomly provide explanations to them, at different opportunities we get to do so.

  • Biodefence: the tools and preparedness to face bioterrorism.
  • Bioterrorism: the clandestine spread of pathogenic organisms or biological toxins to cause large scale death or to incapacitate large sections of vulnerable populations and/or livestock or to destabilise the environment, to force a country into submission, in favour of a particular political or religious philosophy.
  • Bt:  Bacillus thuringiensis, the naturally occurring soil bacterium, that causes disease in insects.   The disease causing genes have been inserted into the genomes of various crops to make them pest resistant.  
  • Bt cotton:  a transgenic variety of cotton that contains the insecticidal genes from Bacillus thuringiensis (similarly Bt potato, Bt tomato, Bt tobacco, etc.).
  • BT: Biotechnology (biological technology):  large (industrial) scale use of organisms or their products to provide products and/or services.
  • BSE: Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, commonly referred to as the Mad Cow Disease, a prion disease that affects cattle.   Humans who consumed food contaminated with BSE develop the New Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s Disease (nvCJD).
  • CBI: Council for Biotechnology Information, an Industry Association based in the US, founded in 2000, which represents almost all major biotech corporations and supplements their US public relations campaigns
  • Eurobarometer:  Public opinion survey conducted to gauge public sentiment in Western European countries towards science and technology.
  • EU:  European Union, a union of 15 Western European countries, which acts to co-ordinate member governments in trade, economic and other types of policy.   Now, EU has a common currency, the Euro, the sole currency in most of the EU countries, with a few exceptions. 
  • Franken food:  the derogatory nickname for genetically modified foods.
  • Fungibility:  the process of weighing advantages and disadvantages of an action.
  • GE: Genetic Engineering, the application of engineering processes and ideas to biological mechanisms and subjects.  
  • GM: Genetic Modification, the insertion of genes from other organisms (within or between species) into host cells to select for desirable qualities.
  • GMO: Genetically Modified Organism, an organism to which genetic modification has been applied.
  • Genschutz Initiative (GPI): the 1998 Swiss Referendum campaign whose goals were the prohibition of all transgenic animals, the banning of all field releases of transgenic crops and the prevention of patenting certain inventions in biotechnology.   This referendum was  voted down by a 2-1 margin.
  • Golden Rice:  a genetically modified variety of rice that contains genes that code for b-carotene; a precursor for the synthesis of vitamin A in our body.
  • Mutual Gain Approach:  a method of public relations that emphasises the acknowledgement of the concerns of the other side, and actions that are based on trust and the wish to establish long term relationships.
  • NGO: Non-Governmental Organisation;  there is a vast number of NGOs in different parts of the world, working for  a very wide variety of causes.
  • nvCJD: see BSE
  • Novel Foods:  food products derived from GMOs.
  • Pastoralism:  the theory which states that a social complexity or change will almost always result in a negative response.
  • Press agentry:  a method of public relations whose main objective is accruing positive publicity for a cause or organisation through mass media.
  • Public information:  a public relations method that looks to accrue positive publicity through mass media by using the release of selective information about the issue or organisation.
  • RAFI: Rural Advancement Foundation International, a non-governmental organisation with headquarters in Canada, working in the interests of farmers.
  • Rivalling rationalities:  the instance in which there are different viewpoints on an issue, but even when the viewpoints are different, they are not different in a way that necessarily makes one wrong whenever the other is right.
  • Superweeds:  the possible result of the cross-pollination between genetically modified crop and its natural counterpart found in the environment.    It is theorised that this cross-pollination may create weeds that are herbicide and insecticide resistant.
  • Terminator Genes:  a derogatory name given by RIFA, to the technology of genetic engineering aimed at controlling plant gene expression, particularly the one that prevents the germination of seed of a crop during the second generation, due to the activation of genes that code for ribosome inhibiting proteins (RIP).     The activation of the specific genes for the RIP requires an external stimulus, to function as a gene switch, such as tetracycline.   There is no situation in normal agriculture to spray this expensive antibiotic.  This technology has been thwarted in the face of opposition from NGOs and has not been incorporated into any crop that has been released.   Originally intended to control gene expression at a particular stage of plant development, a particular tissue, particular environmental conditions, or a particular time or location or a combination of these situations, the technology could have been utilised for several beneficial purposes
  • Traitor technology:  the technology that was designed to silence the traitor genes in a plant.
  • Transgenic Organisms:  genetically modified organisms, such as Bt cotton or Golden Rice, that contain selected genes from one (donor) incorporated into the genome of another (recipient).  
  • Two-way asymmetric:  a public relations method in which a company markets their ideas to a specific demographic.
  • Two-way symmetric:  a public relations method that is used when conflict has arisen, and calls for negotiations and compromise between an organisation and its opposition.   This strategy forces the organisation to not only research the public, but also to communicate with it.
  • To be continued.......