Ethics, Law and Science of Using New Genetic Technology in Medicine and Agriculture

Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D. Eubios Ethics Institute 1990
Copyright1990, Darryl R. J. Macer. All commercial rights reserved. This publication may be reproduced for limited educational or academic use, however please enquire with the author.


pp.393-408 in Shaping Genes: Ethics, Law and Science of Using New Genetic Technology in Medicine and Agriculture, D.R.J. Macer (Eubios Ethics Institute, 1990).
Abortion: The spontaneous or deliberate termination of pregnancy before the embryo or fetus has been born, or is viable outside the womb.
AID: Artificial insemination using donor sperm (see artificial insemination)
AIDS: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome
Alleles: Alternative forms of a genetic locus; alleles are inherited separately from each parent (e.g. at a locus for eye color there might be alleles resulting in blue or brown eyes).
Amino acid: Any of a group of 20 molecules that combine to form proteins in living things. Chemically they contain an amino group, -NH2, and a carboxyl group, -COOH. The sequence of amino acids in a protein is determined by the genetic code.
Amniocentesis: Diagnostic sampling of the amniotic fluid during pregnancy, usually performed by insertion of aneedle into the amniotic fluid which surrounds the fetus during pregnancy. Performed for prenatal screening.
Anencephalic: Literally the condition of having no encephalon or brain (normally applied to fetuses or infants with no cerebrum).
Anesthesia: The partial or complete loss of sensation with or without consciousness as the result of injury, disease, or administration of an anesthetic.
Animal: A living being with a capacity for spontaneous movement and a rapid motor response to stimulation. Animals can be divided into two groups, invertebrates (animals without backbones) and vertebrates (animals with backbones).
Antibiotic: Substance derived from a fungus or bacterium that inhibits the growth of other microorganisms.
Antibody: A blood protein (immunoglobin) produced by white blood cells in response to the presence of a specific foreign substance (antigen) in the body, with which it fights or otherwise interacts. Antibodies to sperm, if present, can impair fertility by causing agglutination of sperm.
Antisense RNA: RNA that is complementary to the nucleotide sequence of normal mRNA. It therefore forms a duplex with the mRNA preventing the mRNA being used in protein synthesis, thus indirectly controlling gene expression.
Artificial insemination: The introduction of sperm into a woman's vagina or uterus by noncoital methods, for the purpose of conception (see AID).
Asexual reproduction: Reproduction of organisms by purely vegetative means without the function and interaction of the two sexes. Examples of asexually reproduced plants are roses, peach trees, and lilies.
Autonomy: The governing of one's self according to one's own system of morals and beliefs.
Autoradiography: A technique that uses X-ray film to visualize radioactively labeled molecules or fragments of molecules. For example it is used in analyzing the length and number of DNA fragments separated by electrophoresis.
Autosome: A chromosome not involved in sex determination. The diploid human genome consists of 46 chromosomes, 22 pairs of autosomes and 1 pair of sex chromosomes.
Bacteria: Single-celled, procaryotic organisms that reproduce by binary fission.
Bacteriophage: A virus which infects bacteria.
Baculovirus: A virus whose host is a bacterial cell; also called phage.
Base pair: Two nucleotides (adenosine and thymidine, or guanosine and cytidine) held together by the bonds between individual bases.
Beneficence: The state of doing or producing good; compare to nonmaleficence.
Biopsy: The sugical removal of a cell or sample of tissue for diagnostic purposes.
Biotechnology: The use or development of techniques using organisms (or parts of organisms) to provide or improve goods or services.
Birth control: The prevention of birth.
Blastocyst: A hollow ball of cells, filled with fluid, that forms about four days after fertilization from the zygote, and prior to the beginning of the process of implantation. The embryo develops from a small cluster of cells in the centre of the sphere, and the outer wall of the sphere becomes the placenta.
Blastomeres: The daughter cells that derive from the first and subsequent cleavages of the zygote.
Caesarian: The surgical removal of a fetus through an incision in the pregnant woman's abdominal tissue and uterine wall.
Carcinogen: Substance that causes or increases the risks of getting cancer.
Carrier: Someone who may transmit a genetic condition but who normally does not show any evidence of the disease.
Cell: The smallest component of life. A membrane-bound protoplasmic body capable of carrying on all essential life processes. A single cell unit is a complex collection of molecules with many different activities all integrated to form a functioning, self-assembling, self-regulating, and self-reproducing biological unit.
Cell culture: The propagation of cells removed from multicellular organisms in a laboratory environment that has strict sterility, temperature, and nutrient requirements.
Cell fusion: The joining of the membrane of two cells, thus creating a single hybrid cell that contains nuclear matter from both the parent cells.
Centimorgan: A unit of measure of genetic recombination frequency. One centimorgan is equal to a 1 percent chance that a genetic locus will be separated from a marker due to recombination in a single generation. In human beings, 1 centimorgan is equivalent, on average, to 1 million base pairs.
Centromere: The small junction area between the two arms of a chromosome.
Chimera: An organism formed by the aggregation of cells taken from different genotypes. Chimeric embryos may occur naturally or artificially. An inter-species chimera is when the cells are from different species.
Chloroplast: Those structures within plant cells where photosynthesis occurs. They contain small circular DNA molecules that replicate independently of the nucleus.
Chorionic villi: Finger-like projections growing from the external surface of the chorion that contribute to the formation of the placenta.
Chorionic villi Sampling (CVS): The procedure used in prenatal diagnosis to take a small sample of the chorionic villi for testing, such as genetic screening.
Chromosomal abnormalities: Genetic mutations involving changes in the number and structure of chromosomes.
Chromosome: A structure that lies inside a cell's nucleus. A chromosome is composed mainly of DNA. Each normal cell of the human body has 23 pairs of chromosomes.
Cleavage: The stage of cell division that takes place immediately after fertilization and that lasts until the cells begin to segregate and differentiate and to develop into a blastocyst.
Clones: A collection of cells or organisms that are genetically identical.
Cloning: The process of asexually producing a group of cells (clones), all genetically identical to the original ancestor. In recombinant DNA manipulation procedures to produce multiple copies of a single gene or segment of DNA.
Codon: A sequence of three DNA base pairs which codes for an amino acid.
Complementary DNA (cDNA): DNA that is synthesized from a messenger RNA template; the single-strand form is often used as a probe in physical mapping.
Conception: The fertilisation of the egg by a sperm that initiates the formation of a zygote (has been used for implantation also).
Conceptus: This term refers to the products of fertilization. It includes the embryo proper as well as extraembryonic structures and tissues that develop from the zygote (e.g. placenta). It is also called the preembryo.
Confidentiality: A fundamental component of the physician-patient relationship, stemming primarily from the Hippocratic oath, in which the physician has the duty to keep confidential all that is confided by the patient.
Conjugation: The reproductive process by which DNA is transferred between bacteria during cell-to-cell contact.
Consanguinity: Descent from common ancestors.
Consequentialism: The normative theory that the rightness or wrongness of actions is determined by anticipated or known consequences, compare to deontologism.
Contigs: Groups of clones representing overlapping, or contiguous, regions of a genome.
Copyright: Copyright protection applies to eight categories of works: literary; musical; dramatic; pantomime and choreographic; pictorial, graphic and sculptural; motion pictures and audio-visual work; sound recording; and computer programs. Copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself.
Covenant: A solemn agreement between two or more parties.
Crossing over: The breaking during meiosis of one maternal and one paternal chromosome, the exchanging of corresponding sections of DNA, and the rejoining of the chromosomes.
Cryopreservation: The preservation of sperm, embryos and oocytes by freezing them at extremely low temperatures.
Cultivar: An international term denoting certain cultivated plants that are clearly distinguishable from others by one or more characteristics and which when reproduced retain those characteristics. In the USA "variety" is considered to be synonymous with cultivar (derived from cultivated variety).
C-value paradox: The lack of correlation between the amount of DNA in a haploid genome and the biological complexity of the organism. (C-value refers to haploid genome size.)
Cystic fibrosis: Disease which affects the sweat and mucus-secreting glands, resulting in chronic lung disease, pancreatic insufficiency, abnormally salty sweat, and in some cases, liver disease.
Cytoplasm(ic): The substance within a cell external to the nuclear membrane; pertaining to or contained in the cytoplasm.
Deletion: Loss of part of a chromosome.
Deontologism: A theory according to which actions are judged right or wrong based upon inheredt right-making characteristics or principles rather than on their consequences.
Determinism: The theory that for every action taken there are causal mechanisms such that no other action was possible.
Diploid: A full set of genetic material (two paired sets of chromosomes), one from each parental set. All cells except sperm and egg cells have a diploid set of chromosomes. The diploid human genome has 46 chromosomes (see haploid.).
DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid: The molecule that encodes genetic information. DNA is a double-stranded molecule held together by weak bonds between base pairs of nucleotides. There are four nucleotides in DNA: adenosine (A), guanosine (G), cytidine (C) and thymidine (T). In nature, base pairs form only between A and T and between G and C, thus the sequence of each single strand can be deduced from that of its partner.
DNA probes: Segments of single-strand DNA that are labeled with a radioactive or other chemical marker and used to identify complementary sequences of DNA by hybridizing with them (see hybridization.).
DNA sequence: The relative order of base pairs, whether in a stretch of DNA, a gene, a chromosome, or an entire genome.
Domain: A discrete portion of a protein with its own function. The combination of domains in a single protein determines its unique overall function.
Dominant: A trait or condition which is expressed in individuals who have a single version of a particular gene.
Donor gametes: Eggs or sperm donated by individuals for medically assisted conception.
Double effect, the Doctrine of: The theory that an evil effect is morally acceptable provided a proportional good effect will accrue, evil is not intended, the evil effect is not the means to the good, and the action is not intrinsically evil.
Double helix: The shape in which two linear strands of DNA are bonded together.
Ectopic pregnancy: A pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube.
Egalitarian: A social philosophy that advocates human equality.
Electrophoresis: A method of separating large molecules (such as DNA fragments or proteins) from a mixture of similar molecules. An electric current is passed through a medium containing the mixture, and each kind of molecule travels through the medium at a different rate, depending on its electrical charge and size. Separation is based on these differences.
Embryo: Early or preimplantation embryo refers to the first two weeks after the formation of the zygote. Embryo technically refers to the stage from the third to eighth week fo development. Often the term embryo also encompasses development from the beginning up to the eighth week.
Embryo donation: The transfer from one woman to another of an embryo obrained by artificial insemination and lavage or, more commonly, by IVF.
Embryo lavage: A flushing of the uterus to recover a preimplantation embryo.
Embryo transfer: The transfer of an in vitro fertilized egg from its laboratory dish into the uterus of a woman.
Endogenous: Developing or originating within the organism, or arising from causes within the organism.
Endotoxin: Poison produced by some gram-negative bacteria, present in the cellular membrane, and released only upon cell rupture; composed of complex lipopolysaccharide (fat-like molecule and sugar molecule) and more heat-stable than protein exotoxins.
Enzyme: A protein that acts as a catalyst, speeding the rate at which a biochemical reaction proceeds byt not altering its direction or nature.
EPA: Environmental Protecion Agency of the USA.
Episome: A DNA molecule that may exist either as an integrated part of a chromosomal DNA molecule of the host or as an independently replicating DNA molecule (plasmid) free of the host chromosome.
Ethics: A system of moral principles or standards governing conduct.
Eucaryote: Cell or organism with membrane-bound, structurally discrete nucleus and other well-developed subcellular compartments. Eucaryotes include all organisms except viruses, bacteria and blue-green algae. Compare procaryote..
Eugenics: Attempts to improve hereditary qualities through selective breeding. See positive eugenics, negative eugenics, eugenics of normalcy.
Eugenics of normalcy: Policies and programs intended to ensure that each individual has at least a minimum number of normal genes.
Euthanasia: The merciful hastening of death, often limited to willful and merciful actions to kill of one who is injured or terminally ill.
Exons: The protein-coding DNA sequences of a gene. Compare introns.
Exotic: Describing a species not originating in the place where it is found; a nonnative, introduced species.
Exotoxin: A poison excreted by some gram-negative or gram-positive organisms. It is composed of protein.
Extrachromosomal DNA: DNA not associated with the chromosome(s), for example, plasmid DNA or organelle (mitochondria or chloroplast) DNA).
Fallopian tube: Either of a pair of tubes that conduct the egg from the ovary to the uterus. Fertilization normally occurs within this structure. Blocked or scarred fallopian tubes are a leading source of infertility in women.
Fermentation: The process of growing microorganisms.
Fertility drugs: Compounds used to treat ovulatory dysfunction. Thise include clomiphene citrate, human gonadotropins, bromocriptine, glucocorticoids and progesterone.
Fetus: The developing human individual from the ninth week after fertilization until birth.
FDA: Food and Drug Administration of the USA.
Fertilisation: The event that initiates the development of an oocyte into embryonic developemnt, normally triggered by the entry of a sperm into the oocyte.
Fingerprinting: The technique of DNA fingerprinting is used to uniquely characterise individual organisms, foods, or biological samples, based on their DNA composition (can also fingerprint chemicals and proteins).
Follicle: The structure on the ovary surface that nurtures a ripening oocyte. At ovulation the follicle produces estrogen until the oocyte is released, after which it becomes a yellowish protrusion on the ovary called the corpus luteum.
Food: Anything consumed or sold for animal consumption.
Food additive: A minor ingrdient added to food to achieve a specific effect. In law, some of these compounds are legally excluded from being calledthis term for the purposes of food safety regulation.
Frameshift: Mutation that results when the genetic code is read beginning at the second or third base of a codon.
Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT): A technique of medically assisted conception in which mature oocytes are surgically removed from a woman's body and then reintroduced, together with sperm, through a catheter threaded into the fallopian tubes, where it is hoped fertilization will take place.
Gamete: Mature male or female reproductive cell with a haploid set of chromosomes (in humans there are 23 chromosomes); that is, a sperm or ovum.
Gene: The fundamental physical and functional unit of heredity. A gene is an ordered sequence of nucleotides located in a particular position on a particular chromosome. See gene expression.
Gene expression: The process by which a gene's blueprint is converted into the structures present and operating in the cell. Expressed genes include those that are transcribed into mRNA and then translated into protein and those that are transcribed into RNA but not translated into protein(e.g., transfer and ribosomal RNAs).
Gene families: Groups of closely related genes that make similar products.
Gene product: The biochemical material, either RNA or protein, made by a gene. The amount of gene product is used to measure how active a gene is; abnormal amounts can be correlated with disease-causing genes.
Genetic code: The sequence of nucleotides, coded in triplets along the mRNA, that determines the sequence of amino acids in protein synthesis. The DNA sequence of a gene can be used to predict the mRNA sequence, and the genetic code can in turn be used to predict the amino acid sequence.
Genetic linkage map: A map of the relative positions of genetic loci on a chromosome, determined on the basis of how often the loci are inherited together. Distance is measured in centimorgans.
Genetic screening: Analysis of an individual genotype for the presence or absence of a particular DNA sequence, or gene.
Genetics: The study of the patterns of inheritance of specific traits.
Genome: All the genetic material in the chromosomes of a particular organism; its size is generally given as its total number of base pairs.
Genome projects: Research and technology development efforts aimed at mapping and sequencing some or all of the genome of human beings and other organisms.
Genomic library: A collection of clones made from a set of overlapping DNA fragments representing the entire genome of an organism. Compare library.
Genotype: The genetic constitution of an individual.
Germplasm: The total genetic variability, represented by germ cells or seeds, available to a particular population of organisms.
Germ cells: Egg and sperm cells and the cells that give rise to them.
GIFT : Gamete intrafallopian transfer, see above.
Gram-negative/positive: A classification of bacteria based on differential staining utilizing the Gram-Wiegert procedure. Primarily as a result of an organism's cell membrane structure, gram-negative organisms stain red and gram-positive organisms stain purple.
Gynecology: Branch of medicine dealing with diseases of the female reproductive tract.
Haploid: A single set of chromosomes (half the full set of genetic material), present in the egg and sperm cells of animals and in the pollen cells of plants. Human beings have 23 chromosomes in their reproductive cells. Compare diploid.
Health: A state of physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Heterozygous: Having two different alleles at the same point on a pair of chromosomes.
Histocompatible: The condition in which tissues will not react to produce a rejection during transplantation.
HIV: Human immunodeficiency virus, a causative agent in the diseaseAIDS.
Homologous recombination: A process of DNA exchange where introduced DNA is substituted for native DNA containing identical or very similar (homologous) nucleotide base sequences at the edges of the exchanged regions.
Homologous sequence: Nucleic acid segments having an identical or nearly identical linear order of nucleotide base pairs.
Homology: Degree of relatedness in appearance, function, or structure.
Homozygous: Having identical alleles at the same point on a pair of chromosomes.
Homeo box: A short stretch of nucleotides whose sequence is virtually identical in all the genes that contain it. It has been found in many organisms, from fruit flies to human beings. It appears to determine when particular groups of genes are expressed in the development of the fuit fly.
Horizontal transfer: The passage of genetic material from one organism to another via nonsexual mechanisms.
Hormone: Chemical substances produced in one part of the body that affect an organ or group of cells in another area of the body.
HUGO: Human Genome Organisation, an international body to coordinate efforts to sequence the humane genome (see human genome project).
Human gene therapy: Insertion of normal DNA derectly into cells to correct a genetic defect.
Human Genome Initiative: Collective name for several projects begun in the mid 1980's in several countries, following the USA Department of Energy decision to 1) create an ordered set of DNA segments from known chromosomal locations, 2) develop new computational methods for analyzing genetic map and DNA sequence data, and 3) develop new techniques and instruments for detecting and analyzing DNA.
Hybridization: The process of joining two complementary strands of DNA, or of DNA and RNA, together to form a double-stranded molecule.
Hydatidiform mole: A placental abnormality composed of grape-like clusters of chorionic villi. It is the product of an abnormal fertilization where live placental tissue is formed without any embryo.
Hybridoma: A new cell resulting from the fusion of a particular type of immortal type of immortal tumor cell line, a myeloma, with an antibody-producing B lymphocyte. Cultures of such cells are capable of continuous growth and specific (i.e. monoclonal) antibody production.
Ice-minus (ice-): A bacterium lacking a functional gene coding for a protein that promotes the formation of ice crystals by providing a physical nucleus around which ice crystallizes. The gene has been deleted from strains of Pseudomonas syringae Pseudomonas fluorescens, and Erwinia herbicola.
Ice-plus (ice+): A bacterium with an intact, functional ice-nucleating gene.
Immunodeficiency: The state of sub-standard expression of the immune system.
Immunosuppression: That state of inhibiting the expression of the immune system.
Imformatics: The study of the application of computer and statistical techniques to the management of information. In genome projects, informatics includes the development of methods to search databases quickly, to analyze DNA sequence information, and to predict protein sequence and structure from DNA sequence data.
Implantation: The process by which the fertilized oocyte (zygote) becomes attached to the wall of the uterus (endometrium). It commences in the seventh day or human embryo development, and is completed by day 14.
In vitro: Literally "in glass"; pertaining to a biological process or reaction taking place in an artificial environment, usually a loboratory.
In vitro fertilization (IVF): A technique of medically assisted conception (sometimes referred to as "testtube" fertilization) in which mature oocytes are removed from a woman's ovary and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory. See embryo transfer..
In vivo: Literally "in the living"; pertaining to a biological process or reaction taking place in a living cell or organism.
Infertility: Inability of a couple to conceive after a long period (e.g. 12-24 months) of intercourse without contraception.
Intellectual property: That area of the law involving patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and plant vairety protection.
International technology transfer: Movement of inventions and technical know-how across national borders.
Intrauterine device (IUD): Contraceptive device inserted through the cervix into the uterine cavity.
Introns: The DNA sequences interrupting the protein-coding sequences of a gene that are transcribed into mRNA but are cut out of the messsage before it is translated into protein. Compare exons.
Invention: An original device, contraption, or process developed after study and experiment. Genetically engineered animals, plants, and micro-organisms have been recognized as patentable forms of biological invention in the United States, but this is not always the case in other countires, especially where animals are concerned.
IVF: in vitro fertilization (see above).
Karyotype: A photomicrograph of an individual's chromosomes arranged in a standard format showing the number, size and shape of each chromosome; used in low-resolution physical mapping to correlate gross chromosomal abnormalities with the characteristics of specific diseases.
Laparoscopy: Direct visualization of the ovaries and the exterior of the fallopian tubes and uterus by means of a laparoscope (a long, narrow, illuminated instrument) introduced through a small surgical incision below the navel, to evaluate any abnormalities. Surgical procedures may also be performed using this method.
Legalism: The position that ethical action consists in strict conformity to law or rules; cf. antinomianism, rules of practice, situationalism.
Library: A collection of clones in no obvious order whose relationship can be established by physical mapping. Compare genomic library.
Linkage: The proximity of two or more markers (e.g., genes, RFLP markers) on a chromosome; the closer together the markers are, the lower the probability that they will be separated during meiosis and hence the greater the probability that they will be inherited together.
Locus: The position on a chromosome of a gene or other chromosome marker, and also the DNA at that position. Some restrict use of locus to regions of DNA that are expressed. See gene expression.and alleles.
Marker: An identifiable physical location on a chromosome (e.g., restriction enzyme cutting site, gene, RFLP marker) whose inheritance can be monitored. Markers can be expressed regions of DNA (genes) or some segment of DNA with no known coding function but whose pattern of inheritance can be determined.
Maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein: A protein secreted during gestation used to predict fetal abnormalities such as spina bifida.
Meiosis: The process of two consecutive cell divisions in the diploid progenitors of sex cells. Meiosis results in four rather than two daughter cells, each with a haploid set of chromosomes.
Mendelian genetics: Classical method of observing inheritance of a trait(s) in the offspring of crosses between individuals differing in that trait(s); results in accordance with Mendel's laws.
Messenger RNA, mRNA: A class of RNA produced by transcribing the DNA sequence of a gene. The mRNA molecule carries messages specific to each of the 20 amino acids. Its role in protein synthesis is to transmit instructions from DNA sequences (in the nucleus of the cell) to the ribosomes (in the cytoplasm of the cell).
Metaphysical: The principles underlying a particular subject or system of beliefs.
Microinjection: A technique used for the insertion of genes from one cell into another cell, in which highly purified copies of a specific gene of interest are injected into a cell. Sopies of one specific gene of interest can be injected into a fertilized animal egg. The egg is then surgically implanted in a female animal's reproductive tract.
Microorganisms: Minute, microscopic, or submicroscopic living organisms (e.g. bacteria, mycoplasma, and viruses).
Mitosis: A type of cell division that produces daughter cells which have the same number of chromosomes as the originating cells.
Monoclonal antibodies: Identical antibodies that recognize a single specific antigen and are produced by a clone of specialized cells.
Morula (the Latin for mulberry): Once the proliferating cells from the fertilized egg compact, they appear at the 12-16 cell stage like a mulberry. Hence the name is applied to the embryo about three days after fertilization.
MRC: The Medical Research Council, for example of the United Kingdom.
Multifactorial or multigenic disorders: See polygenic disorders.
Mutagen: An agent (e.g. Ultraviolet light, X-rays, certain chemicals) that increases the frequency or extent of mutation.
Mutagenesis: A process that results in modification of a DNA sequence.
Mutation: Any change in DNA sequence that results in a new characteristic that can be inherited. Compare polymorphism.
Negative eugenics: Policies and programs intended to reduce the occurrence of genetically determined disease.
Natural selection: The process of differential reproductive success by which genes in a population increase or decrease in frequency with the passage of generations, depending on their contribution to the survival of offspring in which they are carried; arguably the most important of the several mechanisms by which evolution takes place, discovered by Darwin and first described in 1858-59.
Neural tube defect: A condition resulting from the failure of the neural tube to close during fetal development, resulting in spina bifida or anencephely.
NIH: National Institutes of Health of the USA.
Nonmaleficence: The state of not doing harm or evil; compare beneficence.
Nontherapeutic: Something which does not serve the purposes of benefitting an individual patient.
Novelty: One of the criteria used in the evaluation of patent applications. The invention or discovery being evaluated must be new and must not have previously existed through the work of others in order to be accepted on the grounds of novelty.
Nucleic acid: A macromolecule composed of sequences of nucleotide bases, DNA or RNA.
Nucleotide: A subunit of DNA or RNA consisting of a nitrogenous base (adenine, guanine, thymine or cytosine in DNA; adenine, guanine, uracil or cytosine, in RNA), a phosphate molecule, and a sugar molecule (deoxyribose in DNA and ribose in RNA). Thousands of nucleotides are linked to form the DNA or RNA molecule. See DNA, base pair, RNA.
Nucleus: The membrane-enclosed structure in eukaryotes that contains the chromosomes.
Obstetrics: The branch of medicine dealing with the management of pregnancy and childbirth.
Obviousness: Obviousness is one of the criteria used in the evaluation of patent applications. Obviousness addresses the degree of difference between the invention being evaluated and that which is already known and available.
Oligonucleotide: A short section of DNA.
Oligospermia: Scarcity of sperm in the semen.
Oncogene: A gene, one or more forms of which is associated with cancer. Many oncogenes are involved, directly or indirectly, in controlling the rate of cell growth.
Ontological: Refers to actual existence in reality as distinct from in thought or in the imagination.
Oocyte: The immature female germ cell. It is called an ovum when it matures after the penetration of the sperm during fertilization and the completion of the second meiotic division.
Organelle: A structure in the cytoplasm of a cell that is specialized in its ultrastructure and biochemical composition to serve a particular function (e.g. mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, chloroplast).
OTA: Office of Technology Assessment of the USA.
Ovaries: Paired female sex glands in which ova are developed and stored and the hormones estrogen and progesterone are produced.
Oviduct: Fallopian tube.
Ovum (pl. ova): The female egg or oocyte, formed in an ovary.
Ovum donor: A woman who donates an ovum or ova to another woman.
Patent: A patent is a grant issued by different government through a Patent and Trademark Office that gives the patent owner the right to exclude all others from making, using, or selling a patented invention within the country for the term of the patent (e.g. in the USA this is for 17 years).
Paternalism: The system of action in which one person treats another the way a father treats a child, striving to promote the other's good even against the other's wishes.
Pathogenic: Able to cause disease; often utilized to express inactivation or lethality.
Phenotype: The characteristics of individuals which result from the interaction of their genotypes and their environments.
Physical map: A map of the locations of identifiable landmarks on DNA (e.g., restriction enzyme cutting sites, genes, RFLP markers), regardless of inheritance. Distance is measured in base pairs. For the human genome, the lowest-resolution physical map is the banding patterns of the 24 different chromosomes; the highest-resolution map would be the complete nucleotide sequence of the chromosomes.
Plant breeding: The development of plants with certain desirable characteristics, such as disease resistance.
Plant variety: Cultivated plants that are clearly distinguishable from others by one or more characteristics, and that when reproduced retain those distinguishing characteristics.
Plant variety protection: Patent-like protection for certain sexually produced plants. Plant variety protection is granted by many countries, and applies within those countries. It only applies if the holder ensures a reasonable commercial supply of that variety to all who want it.
Plasmid: An extrachromosomal, circular piece of DNA found in the cytoplasm and capable of replicating and segregating independently of the host chromosome. See vector.
Pleiotropic effect: The production of several unrelated changes in the characterisitics of a cell or organism by a single genetic change.
Polygenic disorders: Genetic disorders resulting from the combined action of alleles of more than one gene (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers). Although such disorders are inherited, they depend on the simultaneous presence of several alleles, thus the hereditary patterns are usually more complex than those of single-gene disorders. Compare singlegene disorders.
Polymerase: An enzyme that assembles a number of similar or identical subunits into a macromolecule (e.g. DNA polymerase and RNA polymerase).
Polymorphism: Difference in DNA sequence among individuals. Genetic variations occurring in more than 1 percent of a population would be considered useful polymorphisms for genetic linkage analysis. Compare muation.
Polyploid: Having a chromosome number that is greater than two of the monoploid number. Polyploid oysters were among the first nonnaturally occurring, nunhuman, multicellular, living organisms to be declared patentable subject matter.
Positive eugenics: The achievement of systematic or planned genetic changes to improve indivicuals or their offspring.
Preembryo: The developing cells produced by the division of the zygote before the formation of the embryo proper at the appearance of the primitive streak. Also called pro-embryo.
Primer: A short piece of DNA that promotes DNA synthesis by providing a site for the action of the enzyme, DNA polymerase, to add nucleotides at one end of the primer.
Primitive streak: A pilling up of cells on the caudal end of the embryonic disc, providing the earliest evidence of the embryonic axis and the formation of the embryo proper. In human embryos this begins to occurs at about day 15.
Prior art: That which is already known or available, part of the criteria of obviousness used in evaluating patent applications.
Procaryote: Cell or organism lacking membrane bound, structurally discrete nucleus and subcellular compartments. Bacteria are examples. Compare eucaryote.
Protein: A large molecule composed of chains of smaller molecules (amino acids) in a specific sequence; the sequence is determined by the sequence of nucleotides in the gene coding for the protein. Proteins are required for the structure, function and regulation of the body's cells, tissues and organs, and each protein has a unique function. Examples are hormones, enzymes and antibodies.
Protoplast: A plant cell whose wall has been removed by enzymatic or mechanical means.
Recessive: A trait or condition which is only expressed in individuals who have two identical versions of a particular gene, one inherited from their mother, and one from their father.
Recombinant DNA: Hybrid DNA sequences assembled in vitro from different sources; or hybrid DNA sequences from the same source assembled in vitro in a novel configuration.
Recombinant DNA technologies: Procedures used to join together DNA segments in a cell-free system (an environment outside of a cell or organism). A recombinant DNA molecule can enter a cell and replicate there, either autonomously or after it has become integrated into a cellular chromosome.
Recombination: The formation of a new association of genetic material. It is usually applied to the process of meiosis, during a stage of which the genetic material packaged into gametes is mixed and reconstituted in any of an enormous number of possible combinations. It is also applied to genetic engineering.
Replication: The synthesis of new DNA strands from existing DNA. In human beings and other eukaryotes, replication occurs in the nucleus of the cell.
Resolution: Degree of molecular detail on a physical map of DNA, ranking from low to high.
Restriction enzyme, endonuclease: A protein that recognizes specific, short nucleotide sequences and cuts DNA at those sites. There are over 400 such enzymes in bacteria that recognize over 100 different DNA sequences. See restrction enzyme cutting site.
Restriction enzyme cutting site: A specific nucleotide sequence of DNA at which a restriction enzyme cuts the DNA. Some sites occur frequently in DNA, every several hundred base pairs, but others occur much less frequently, may be every 10,000 base pairs.
Retrovirus: A family of Viruses whose genetic material is RNA and is further characterized by the presence of reverse transcriptase in the virion.
Reverse transcriptase:An enzyme capable of directing the production of a simgle-strand DNA copy form an RNA template.
RFLP, restriction fragment length polymorphism: Variation in DNA fragment sizes cut by restriction enzymes; polymorphic sequences that are responsible for RFLPs are used as markers on genetic linkage maps.
Ribosomal RNA, rRNA: A class of RNA found in the ribosomes of cells.
Risk: The probability of adverse effects, their nature, and their severity over a range of exposures.
Risk/Benefit: A decision-assiting process that attempts to identify, estimate and weigh all the risks and benefits associated with a particular action and to determine whether overall the benefit would be worth the associated risk.
RNA, ribonucleic acid: A chemical found in the nucleus and cytoplasm of cells; it plays an important role in protein synthesis and other chemical activities of the cell. The structure of RNA is similar to that of DNA. There are several classes of RNA molecules, including messenger RNA, transfer RNA, ribosomal RNA and other small RNAs, each serving a different purpose.
RU-486: The steriodal antiprogestin milepristone, which is capable of inducing early abortion by inhibiting the secretion of progesterone.
Safety: The reasonable certainty that no harm will result under expected conditions of use.
Schizophrenia: A psychotic disorder characterized by personality disintegration and distortion in the perception of reality.
Secular ethics: Theories of what is good and bad, or right or wrong, based on criteria other than religious doctrine.
Seed: A mature ovule, consisting of an embryonic plat together with a store of food, all surrounded by a protective coat. A seed usually develops following the fertilization of an egg cell by a male generative cell from a pollen grain.
Selective advantage: An organism's increased probability of reproduction and producing offspring, conferred by its genetic characteristics.
Selective pressure: The influence of factors extrinsic to an organism (i.e. environmental factors) on its ability to compete with other organisms for reproductive success.
Semen: A fluid consisting of secretions from the male's seminal vesicles, prostate, and from the glands adjacent to the urethra. Semen carries sperm and is ejaculated during intercourse.
Sex chromosomes: The X and Y chromosomes in human beings that determine the sex of an individual. Females have two X chromosomes in diploid cells; males have an X and a Y chromosome.
Sexual reproduction: Reproduction that occurs as a result of the interaction between the two sexes. In plants, sexual reproduction occurs when a female egg cell is fertilized by a male generative cell from a pollen grain. Examples of sexually reproduced plants are corn, wheat and sorghum.
Single-gene disorders: Hereditary disorders caused by a single gene (e.g., Duchenne muscular dystrophy, retinoblastoma, sickle cell disease). Compare polygenic disorders..
Site-directed mutagenesis: The modification of a DNA sequence at a location that is precisely controlled.
Situationalism: The position that ethical action must be judged in each situation guided by, but not directly determined by, rules.
Somatic cells: Any cells in the body except reproductive cells and their precursors.
Species: Taxonomic category subordinate to a genus composed of individuals with common characteristics that distinguish them from other groups of the same taxonomic level; in sexually reproducing organisms, a group of interbreeding natural populations that are genetically distinct from other such groups.
Species barrier: The idea that there is a natural barrier between species that preserves their integrity or identity. This idea has no known foundation in biology. The parameters that limit the ranges and variations of species are fluid and variable, and species exist as reproductive communities rather than as separate creatures.
Species integrity: The idea that a species has integrity as a biological unit. This would have to be based on the identity of the genetic material carried by the species. However, it is not clear how a species might be defined genetically, and this issue is the subject of debate among those seeking to understand the nature of species.
Sperm: The male reproductive cell, or gamete. Normal sperm have symmetrically oval heads, stout midsections, and long tapering tails.
Sperm bank: A place in which sperm are stored by cryopreservation for future use in artificial insemination.
Statute: Legislation enacted by a legislature.
Strain: A pure culture of organisms within a species, characterized by one or more particular physical or genetic properties.
Surrogate: Someone serving as a substitute decisionmaker.
Surrogate mother: A woman who is artificially inseminate, with sperm or embryo, and carries an embryo to term, with the intention of relinquishing the child at birth.
Syndrome: The combination of signs and symptoms which occur together in any particular disorder.
Syngamy: The mingling of the male and female haploid shromosome sets following the breakdown of the pronuclear membranes. This results in the formation of the zygote.
Syphilis: A sexually-transmitted disease caused by an organism called spirochete.
Technology transfer: The process of converting scientific knowledge into useful products.
Teleological: Explaining phenomena by their design, purpose, or final causes.
Teratogenic: Producing malformation in an embryo or fetus.
Teratoma: A new and uncontrolled growth of cells and tissues that are the product of an abnormal fertilization without any potential to develop into an embryo proper or fetus.
Therapy: The provision of remedies in the treatment of disorders or illnesses.
Tissue culture: The propagation of tissue removed from organisms in a laboratory environment that has strict sterility, temperature, and nutrient requirements.
Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA): A genetically engineered protein drug that helps to dissolve blood clots in patients who have suffered heart attacks.
Tort: A private or civil wrong resulting from a breach of a legal duty that exists by virtue of society's legal expectations regarding interpersonal conduct, rather than by virtue of a contractual agreement.
Totipotency: This represents the capacity (potential) of a cell or a cluster of cells to produce the whole (total) embryo and fetus with all its extraembryonic membranes and tissues. Pluripotency or multipotency is similar but is restricted to represent the capacity to produce a variety of parts and tissues but not the whole embryo and fetus.
Toxicity testing: The use of experimental procedures to determine the levels at which exposure to a material leads to adverse effects in test subjects, the characterisation of such induced effects and the elucidation of mechanisms of action by which effects were induced.
Toxin: Most often, a toxic peptide or protein capable of eliciting antibody production. A toxicant is a substance that has been shown to present some significant degree of possible risk when consumed above safe limits by animals. See endotoxin and exotoxin.
Transcription: The synthesis of mRNA from a sequence of DNA (a gene); the first step in gene expression. Compare translation.
Transduction: The transfer of genetic material from one cell to another by means of a virus or bacteriophage.
Transfer RNA, tRNA: A class of RNA having structures with triplet nucleotide sequences that are complementary to the triplet nucleotide coding sequences of mRNA. The role of tRNAs in protein synthesis is to bond with amino acids and transfer them to the ribosomes, where proteins are synthesized according to the instructions carried by mRNA.
Transformation: Introduction and assimilation of DNA from one organism into another via uptake of naked DNA.
Transgenic animals: Animals whose hereditary DNA has been augmented by the addition of DNA from a source other than parental germplasm usually from another animal or a human, in a laboratory, using recombinant DNA techniques. At the moment, most of the research in this field is done on mice, but major research efforts in transgenic animal modification are also focusing on cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry, and fish.
Translation: The process in which the genetic code carried by mRNA directs the synthesis of proteins from amino acids. Compare transcription.
Translocation: The transfer of genetic material from one chromosome to another. An exchange of material between two chromosomes is referred to as a 'reciprocal translocation'.
Transposable element: A class of DNA sequences capable of insertion into a genome at numerous positions, and of moving from one area of a genome to another area or another genome.
Transposon: A type of transposable element incapable of autonomous existence, often shuttling genetic material back and forth between cell chromosomes, between smaller replicons, and between chromosomes and replicons.
Ultrasound: The use of high-frequency sound waves focused on the body to obtain a video image of internal tissues, organs and structures. Ultrasound is particularly useful for in utero examinations of a developing fetus, for evaluation of the development of ovarian follicles, and for the guided retrieval of oocytes for IVF and GIFT.
Unconstitutional: Conflicting with the provisions of a constitution, usually the U.S. Constitution. Statutory provisions or particular applications of a statutory provision found unconsitutional are thereby rendered void.
Utilitarian: The view that an action is deemed morally acceptable because it produces the greatest balance of good over evil taking into account all individuals affected.
Utility: The state of being useful or producing good.
Utility patents: Usefulness or utility is one of the criteria used to evaluate patent applications. Utility patents are patents issed to inventors of any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition or any new and useful improvement there of.
Vasectomy: Sterilization of a man by surgical excision of a part of the vas deferens.
Vector: DNA molecule originating from a virus, a bacterium, or the cell of a higher organism used to carry additional DNA base pairs; vectors introduce foreign DNA into host cells, where it can be reproduced in large quantities. Examples are plasmics, cosmids and yeast artificial chromosomes.
Virus: Any of a large group of organisms containing genetic material but unable to reproduce outside a host cell.
Wild-type: An organism isolated from nature.
X-linked: Genes carried on the X chromosome.
Zona pellucida: A thick, transparent noncellular layer of uniform thickness surrounding the oocyte, zygote and early embryo for several days, when it degenerates and allows the embryo to everge or hatch out.
Zygote: The fertilized egg; the single cell that is formed when the two haploid sets of chromosomes in the pronuclei of the male and female gametes come together at syngamy. Also used loosely to refer to the early embryo during the first few weeks.
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