Cover Image
close this bookLife Industry: Biodiversity, People and Profits (WWF, 1996)
close this folderAppendices
View the documentAbout the authors
View the documentAcronyms
View the documentGlossary
View the documentOrganizations


Accession: a sample of seeds or plants collected for storage in a gene bank.

Allele: alternative versions of a gene. A gene for eye colour may have several alleles, coding for green, brown, grey or blue eyes.

Agenda 21: the plan of action drawn up at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It is a comprehensive set of programmes of action to promote sustainable development into the 21st century. Although nonbinding, Agenda 21 is an important document representing a consensus of the world's governments.

Biodiversity: the diversity of life. The term refers to the millions of lifeforms found on earth, the genetic variation between them and their complex ecological interactions. Biodiversity can also he thought of as a web of relationships between organisms and the- environment which ensure balance and sustainability.

Biome: a major portion of the living environment of a particular region, such as fir forest or grassland, characterized by its distinctive vegetation and maintained by local climatic conditions.

Bioprospecting: the exploration of commercially valuable genetic and biochemical resources.

Biotechnology: any technique that uses living organisms to make or modify a product, to improve plants and animals, or to develop micro-organisms for specific uses. Often (wrongly) used synonymously with 'genetic engineering', hut the term 'biotechnology' covers a much wider spectrum of techniques and processes.

Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH): a naturally occurring growth hormone found in cattle that, amongst other things, increases milk production. It can he produced synthetically using recombinant DNA techniques, inserting the gene into bacteria which act as mini-factories for BGH. The hormone is then harvested, purified and injected into cattle.

Bovine Somatotropin (BST): the scientifically correct term for bovine growth hormone.

Bt toxin: a generic term for a group of toxins produced by the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis which are active against a wide range of crop pests. The toxins are sometimes sprayed externally on to plants, but more interest is now going into transplanting the genes' coding for the toxins into the crops themselves.

Chromosome: a long, thread-like chain of genetic material found in cells of most organisms. Chromosomes consist of DNA and protein wound together to form a double helical structure.

Community Intellectual Rights: a suggested form of sui generis intellectual property rights in which communities, rather than individuals, are rewarded for innovation.

Conservation: the management of human use of the biosphere so that it may yield the greatest sustainable benefit to present generations while maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of future generations. Thus conservation is positive, embracing preservation, maintenance, sustainable use, restoration, and enhancement of the natural environment.

Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR): an informal coalition of donors (largely from the North) that funds and promotes R&D into international agricultural research via its organs, the International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs).

Convention on Biological Diversity: a legally-binding agreement for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Adopted in Nairobi in May 1992, the Convention was opened for signature and signed during the Earth Summit by over 150 countries. By October 1995, it had been ratified by 128 countries and the KU.

Cultivar: a cultivated variety of plant, used interchangeably with 'variety'.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA J.: the molecule found in chromosomes that is the repository of genetic information in almost all organisms. The information coded by DNA determines the structure and function of an organism.

Dwarf genes: the genetic powerhouse of the Green Revolution. These genes produce varieties of crops such as wheat, rice and maize with shorter, stiffer stems, so that the plants can put more energy into the production of grain at the expense of peripheral parts such as stems, leaves, etc.

Ecosystem: a dynamic complex of plant, animal, fungal, and microorganism communities and their associated non-living environment interacting as an ecological unit.

Endemic: restricted to a specific region or locality.

Ex-situ conservation: 'off site' conservation. Keeping components of diversity alive outside of their original habitat or natural environment.

Extension (worker): extension is the process by which insitutional scientific results are brought and transmitted to the farmer. An extension worker is responsible for doing this. They are often government employees, but may work for NGOs or other organizations.

Fauna: all of the animals found in a given area.

Flora: all of the plants found in a given area.

Farmers Rights: a inroad interpretation of intellectual property rights, designed to overcome the shortcomings of other IPR systems which fail to address the inventive process of informal systems.

Gene. the functional unit of heredity usually carried on the chromosome and made up of DNA. A gene codes for a particular protein molecule. A single gene sometimes codes directly for a particular characteristic, but more often a particular trait is the result of the interaction between several genes and the environment.

Gene hank: a facility established for the ex situ conservation of seeds, tissues or reproductive cells of plants or animals.

Gene flow: exchange of genes between different, usually related, populations. Genes commonly flow back and forth amongst plants via transfers of pollen.

Gene pool: the sum total of genes in a population (not an individual) at any one time.

Gene therapy. transplanting genes into individuals for therapeutic purposes. The only medical application of this therapy at present is for cystic fibrosis sufferers.

Genetic determinism. the belief that patterns and differences in an organism's biology and behaviour are largely determined by their genes. Also celled 'hereditarianism'.

Genetic diversity: the variation in the genetic composition of individuals within or among species; the hereditable genetic variation within and among populations.

Genetic engineering: modifying the genetic make-up of living organisms using molecular biology techniques that can transfer genes between widely dissimilar organisms.

Genetic resources: strictly speaking, the physical hereditary material (germplasm) which carries the genetic characteristics of life forms. In the broader sense, genetic resources are the germplasm plus information, funds, technologies and social and environmental systems ( GIFTS) through which germplasm becomes a socioeconomic resource.

Genome: the entire collection of an organisms's hereditary material contained in its genes.

Genomics: the study of the genes and genetics

Genotype: the genetic make-up of an organism.

Germplasm: the genetic material that comprises the physical basis of the inherited qualities of an organism.

Green Revolution: The changes in world agricultural practices which occurred in the 1950s,1960s and 1970s as the result of the introduction of the so-called 'high-yielding' varieties.

Herbicide: a chemical weed-killer.

Hereditarianism: see 'genetic determinism'.

High-yielding variety: a variety that has been bred to produce a high yield of a particular crop. This was achieved with Green Revolution crops largely by the introduction of 'dwarf' genes (see above). Some critics think that 'high-response' variety is a more accurate term, since in the absence of fertilizers and irrigation, they perform worse than traditional varieties.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR): a bag of tools designed to protect people's knowledge. They are designed to promote and protect innovation by allowing the 'owner' of the knowledge to have a monopoly over his or her invention for a designated period of time, during which no one else may use the invention except on payment of a royalty to the owner.

In situ conservation: 'on-site' conservation: the conservation of biodiversity within the natural environment.

Jumping gene: a mobile section of DNA that can 'jump' from one gene to another, thus serving as an agent of change. Also called a 'transposon'.

Landrace: a variety developed over many plant generations, sometimes encompassing thousands of years, by farmers selecting plants with desired characteristics. Landraces are usually more genetically diverse than modern farm varieties and are often adapted to specific local environments. Sometimes called 'peasant varieties' or 'primitive cultivars', they are looked down on by industrial agriculture, but are very valuable because of their diversity, survival qualities, adaptability and other characteristics.

Licence: a type of contract between an owner of intellectual property and another allowing the latter to use, manufacture or market the invention in exchange for a royalty.

Micro-organism: single-celled organism, often used as a vehicle, or minifactory for the production of genetically engineered products, such as the sweetener thaumatin; or enzymes used in cheese making, which can be harvested from bacteria.

Miracle seeds. the so-called high-yielding varieties of the Green Revolution.

Non-governmental Organization (NGO): a non-profit group or association organized outside of political structures to realize particular social objectives (such as environmental protection) or to serve particular constituencies (such as indigenous people). NGOs range from small groups within a particular community to national or international organizations.

Natural selection: the process by which the interaction between organisms and the environment leads to a differential rate of reproduction among genetic types in a population. As a result, some genes increase in frequency in a population, while others decline. Natural selection is one of the driving forces of evolution.

Neem: the neem tree (Azadirachta indica) has been used widely (particularly in Asia) for a variety of purposes: the leaves are used as a pesticide, its oil is used in candles, soap and a contraceptive, etc. Neem derivatives are now being patented and marketed by two US companies, and Southern fanners are outraged that their contribution to commercial neem's intellectual property is not being recognized.

Paradigm: a mutually-reinforcing pattern of concepts, values, beliefs, methods and behaviours.

Patent a legal mechanism offering a temporary monopoly of rights which is awarded to an individual in respect of innovative processes or products that they have created.

Phenotype: the outward appearance, or physical and physiological characteristics, of an organism.

Plant Breeders Rights (PBR): monopoly rights awarded to plant breeders and farmers. These differ from patents in that the monopoly is granted only for marketing a specific variety, not over ownership of the germplasm.

Polymorphism. the co-existence of two or more distinct forms of individuals bearing the same genes in a population.

Population: in genetics, a group of individuals which share a common genepool and can interbreed. Traditional planting materials used by fanners are usually referred to as populations because they are heterogeneous, as opposed to the pure lines produced by research centres or industry.

Prior informed consent: an agreement obtained following full disclosure of all relevant facts.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR): a technique that has revolutionized molecular biology. PCR is a technique for amplifying DNA in the laboratory. Copies of DNA can be made from very small samples, even individual cells.

Public domain: everything that is known in the world that is not protected as intellectual property.

Racism. the belief in the superiority of certain races over others, combined with the power to act on that belief.

Racialism: the belief that humans are divisible into a finite number of types (races) and that individual biology and behaviour are explicable by race. Also called Scientific Racism.

Reductionism: the dominant approach to scientific method, which reduces organisms, and life itself, to their mechanistic parts and disregards the interconnections and dynamism between genes, physiological systems, organisms and their environments. cf. Systems approach.

Royalty: a payment, usually a fixed percentage per performance, broadcast or unit sold, to an intellectual property owner established by contract or other agreement. Royalties may also he payable, subject to a contract stating this, by a drug company to a supplier of biological matter if it contains a biochemical useful in developing a new drug product.

Scientific Racism: see 'Racialism'.

Selection: any process used to sift out certain genotypes rather than others.

Species: a population whose members are able to interbreed freely under natural conditions.

Species diversity: the variety and frequency of different species.

Sui generis legislation: a unique form of intellectual property protection, especially designed to meet certain criteria and needs. Because of its adaptability, sui generis protection is being considered by the Biodiversity Convention as an alternative to the universal blueprint protection that patents offer.

Sustainable development: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs; improving the quality of human life whilst living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.

Systems approach: looks at living organisms and living systems as interconnected and co-dependent entities, rather than as isolated, selfcontained units. cf. Reductionism.

Trait: genetic predisposition for a physical characteristic, such as eye colour, pest resistance or drought tolerance.

Transposon: see 'jumping gene'.

Transgene: a gene transplanted from a dissimilar organism, or an artificially constructed gene introduced into an organism.

Transgenic organism: one that has been genetically engineered or that is the offspring of other transgenic organisms. Typically, a transgenic plant contains genetic material from at least one unrelated organism.

Variety: A group of plants within a species which share common characteristics. Usually refers to plants which have been selected by breeders to be distinct, uniform and stable.

Virus: the smallest known type of organism. Viruses cannot exist in isolation - they must first infect a living cell and usurp its synthetic and reproductive facilities. It generally causes disease in host organisms.