Amino acids– The basic building blocks of proteins. A chain of amino acids makes a protein.
Amplification– an increase in the number of copies of a specific DNA fragment
Coding region– The section of a gene that contains the instructions about how to make a specific protein. This region is found between the promoter and the termination sequence in the DNA sequence.
Codon– Three consecutive nucleotides in an RNA molecule that code for a single amino acid. This is what the ribosome reads when it translates RNA instructions to make a protein.
Cytoplasm– A compartment in a plant or animal cell surrounding the nucleus in which many cell organelles and molecules are suspended.
DNA– The instruction manual for a cell. Sections of the DNA called ‘genes’ can include instructions for building proteins. DNA is a double-stranded molecule held together by weak bonds between base pairs of nucleotides.
Gene– a sequence of DNA that provides the instructions for making a protein.
Gene expression– The production of a protein encoded by a gene (transcription and translation). Where and when a gene is expressed is controlled by the promoter region of the gene.
Gene modification– ‘exchanging’ the promoter on a gene so that it is ‘turned on’ in the right place and at the right time in an organism.
Genetic engineering– The process of manually adding DNA with a specific function to the genome (DNA) of an organism. This usually involves adding one or two new genes into an organism that may contain over 30,000 genes.
Nucleotides– The subunits that are linked together to make DNA or RNA.
Nucleus– The part of the plant or animal cell that contains the DNA.
PCR (polymerase chain reaction)– A method for making lots of copies of a particular gene or sequence of DNA in the lab. Used to generate greater amounts of DNA for analysis or to determine if a particular sequence exists.
Promoter– The first region of a gene that determines when and where the gene is ‘turned on.’ More technically, it is a specific DNA sequence to which RNA polymerase binds and initiates transcription. This region contains information which regulates when and how often the gene is transcribed and ultimately the amount of protein it produces.
Protein– Molecules that ‘do the work’ of a cell. DNA provides the instructions to build these large molecules which are made of folded chains of amino acids. Once built, proteins have jobs that involve the structure, function, or regulation of the organism’s cells, tissues, and organs. Each protein has a unique function determined by its shape.
Ribosome– A large molecule made of RNA and protein that reads the instructions in RNA strands to build proteins. This process of reading RNA and hooking together the right amino acids to build a protein is called translation.
RNA– This is a ‘photocopy’ of a gene found in a strand of DNA. This photocopy is small enough to be transported into the cytoplasm where it can be used as the instruction manual to build a protein. RNA is single-stranded (contrasted with double stranded DNA) and uses uracil in place of thymine nucleotides.
Termination sequence– The sequence of DNA which signals the transcription (photocopying of the gene to make RNA) to stop.
Transformation– A process by which extra genetic material is inserted into a cell.
Transgenic– ‘Trans’ means to move across and ‘gen’ refers to gene…so transgenic is an organism that has new genetically engineered DNA sequence found in every one of its cells. Genetically engineered organisms are transgenic. These two terms are used interchangeably.
Universal code– the theory that the ‘same’ genetic code is used by all forms of life. This principle explains why a piece of DNA can be moved from one organism to another and still function correctly.