“Biotechnology” means the application of science and engineering in the direct or indirect use of living organisms, or parts or products of living organisms, in their natural or modified forms. This term is very broad and includes the use of traditional or conventional breeding, as well as more modern techniques such as genetic engineering.

“Modern biotechnology” is used to distinguish newer applications of biotechnology, such as genetic engineering and cell fusion from more conventional methods such as breeding, or fermentation. Most often the term “biotechnology” is used interchangeably with “modern biotechnology”.

“Conventional breeding” or “selective breeding” means propagating plants or animals sexually, selecting for certain traits. Using selective cross-breeding, people can produce different varieties of plants and breeds of animals.

GM stands for “genetically modified”. An organism, such as a plant, animal or bacterium, is considered genetically modified if its genetic material has been altered through any method, including conventional breeding. A “GMO” is a genetically modified organism.

GE stands for “genetically engineered”. An organism is considered genetically engineered if it was modified using techniques that permit the direct transfer or removal of genes in that organism. Such techniques are also called recombinant DNA or rDNA techniques.

“Transgenic” organisms have a gene from another organism moved into them. For example, the plant product known as “Bt corn” is a transgenic plant because it has a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). That gene produces a protein with pesticidal properties that, when incorporated into a plant, allows the plant to produce this protein, thus transferring the bacteria’s natural defence to the plant.

“Mutagenesis” is the use of methods to physically change or “mutate” the genetic sequence, without adding DNA from another organism. Various chemicals and ionizing radiation can be used to invoke these changes. “Site-directed mutagenesis” can also be used to invoke changes in specific genes. In plants, such agents are used to change a plant’s genetic sequence, and the plant can pass on these new characteristics to its offspring.

Source: Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “Modern Biotechnology: A Brief Overview” Available:


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