The McKinsey Global Institute has published a tome, “The Bio Revolution” that attempts to quantify the risks and opportunities for synthetic biology. Here is the document’s glossary:
Allele. Any of the alternative forms of a gene that may occur at a given locus.
Bioinformatics. A hybrid science between computer science, biology, and statistics that involves the analysis of large amounts of biological data.
Biocomputing. This field of biology is defined as using cells and cellular components for computational processes (storing, retrieving, processing data).
Biomachine interfaces. This field of biology is defined as the connection of nervous systems of living organisms to machines, including in brain-machine interfaces.
Biomarkers. A measurable indicator such as a molecule, gene, or characteristic, by which a particular biological process can be identified.
Biomolecules. In our definition of biomolecules for this report, this covers the mapping and measuring of intra-cellular components (for example, DNA, RNA, and proteins) in the study of omics. We also include the engineering of intra-cellular components (for instance, genome editing).
Biosystems. This covers engineering at the cell, tissue, or organ level, including stem-cell technologies and transplantation use cases.
Carrier screening. Carrier screening is a genetic test used to determine if a healthy person is a carrier of a recessive genetic disease. It provides life-lasting information about an individual’s reproductive risk and their chances of having a child with a genetic disease.
CAR T-cell (chimeric antigen receptor T-cell). CAR T-cells are genetically engineered T-cells which express artificial chimeric antigen receptors on their surface. These engineered T-cells enable a patient’s own immune system to identify and destroy targeted cells.
Cell-free DNA/RNA analysis. Often abbreviated to cfDNA/cfRNA, this is the sequencing of DNA or RNA outside a cell, in the bloodstream, for instance.
Checkpoint inhibitor. A type of drug that helps to activate a patient’s immune system. This works by blocking immune checkpoint proteins that are involved in deactivating a patient’s immune response.
CRISPR-Cas9. Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and CRISPR associated protein 9. This tool uses a small piece of RNA with a short “guide” sequence that attaches to a target sequence of DNA and to the Cas9 enzyme. The Cas9 enzyme cuts the targeted DNA at the targeted location, which enables genetic material to be added or deleted.
CRISPR-Chip. A system that immobilizes CRISPR complexes on the surface of graphene-based transistors, which allows for the electronic identification of specific target genes.
Cultured meat. Meat produced by in vitro cultivation of animal cells.
DNA. Short for deoxyribonucleic acid, this is an organic chemical found in all cells and in many viruses. DNA acts as the main carrier for genetic information.
EEG. Short for electroencephalogram, this technique records brain wave patterns. It works by attaching small metal discs to the scalp to measure electrical activity.
ELISA. Short for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, this technique detects and measures the amount of a substance in a solution such as serum. It uses antibodies linked to enzymes that can produce a color change or other measurable effect.
Epigenomics. This is the study of the epigenome, specifically epigenetic modifications that affect gene expression such as DNA methylation and histone modification. This can direct such actions as turning genes on or off, and controlling the production of proteins in particular cells.
Fermentation. This is an anaerobic metabolic process in which energy can be released from carbohydrate (such as glucose) even if oxygen is not available. During this process, the carbohydrate is converted into alcohol or acid. Fermentation occurs in yeast cells, bacteria, and the muscle cells of animals.
Flow cytometry. A laser-based technology that counts, sorts, and profiles cells or particles within a liquid suspension.
Gene array. Scientific equipment that contains a collection of nucleic acids at specific locations, which allows for measurement of analysis of the nucleic acids.
Gene drive. Technology that uses genetic engineering to enable a specific genetic variant to be passed from parent to child at a higher-than-normal rate (up to 100 percent).
Genome sequencing. A process for determining the order of DNA nucleotides within a DNA sequence.
Genome-wide association studies. These studies find associations between a particular human trait and variation in genetic sequence throughout the genome across a large population. In these studies, people who have a particular disease and many who don’t are sequenced in order to find areas of consistent differences. If such areas are discovered, this helps scientists to zero in on parts of the genome that are responsible for the risk of disease.
Genomics. This is the study of genes and their functions, and techniques related to them. The genome consists of the full genetic complement of an organism—its DNA.
Genotype. An organism’s collection of genetic material.
Germline editing. This is gene editing of an embryo, egg, or sperm such that changes are inherited by all future generations.
Glycomics. This relates to the glycome, which is the structure and function of the complete set of glycosylated products.
GMO (genetically modified organism). A GMO is an organism whose genetic material has been altered or modified. In GM crops, DNA from foreign organisms such as bacteria is introduced.
Guide RNAs or gRNAs. RNA sequences that guide Cas nuclease to a target region of DNA.
High-performance liquid chromatography. This is a form of column chromatography that separates, identifies, and quantifies components dissolved in a liquid solvent with a high analytical resolution. In utero gene editing. This is editing of genes in a fetus while in the uterus, which has
the advantage of being able to use the normal developmental properties of the fetus to accomplish efficient gene editing.
In vitro fertilization (IVF). A type of assisted reproduction technology in which an egg is fertilized by sperm outside the body.
Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These are adult cells (for instance, skin cells) that are reprogrammed into an embryonic stem cell-like state that enables the development of unlimited amounts of any type of human cells.
Lipidomics. This is the comprehensive identification and quantification of the complete set of lipids (the lipidome) of a biological system (cell, tissue, organ, biological fluid, or organism) at a specific point in time.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is a medical imaging technique using magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the inside of the body.
Magnetoencephalography (MEG). This is a noninvasive neuroimaging technique for direct mapping brain activity by recording magnetic fields generated by electrical currents occurring naturally in the neurons of the brain.
Marker-assisted breeding. Marker-assisted breeding uses DNA markers associated with desirable traits to enable breeders to select a trait of interest without using transgenic approaches. Therefore, marker-assisted breeding doesn’t produce GM organisms.
Mass spectrometry. This is a tool used for measuring the mass-to-charge ratio of one or more molecules present in a sample. Mass spectrometers can be used to identify unknown compounds by determining their molecular weight, to quantify known compounds, and to determine the structure and chemical properties of molecules. It is used in epigenomics, proteomics, metabolomics, glycomics, and microbiomics.
Mesenchymal stem cells. These are stem cells that are found in various tissues (such as bone marrow) that can differentiate into a variety of cell types, such as bone, cartilage, muscle, and fat.
Metabolomics. This is the comprehensive identification and quantification of the complete set of metabolites (substrates, intermediates, and products of metabolism) of a biological system (cell, tissue, organ, biological fluid, or organism) at a specific point in time.
Microarray. This is a high-throughput screening method where the DNA sequences representing the large number of genes of an organism that are arranged in a grid pattern for detection in genetic testing.
Microbiomics. This is the comprehensive identification and quantification of the complete set of microbes (the microbiome) of a biological system (such as the human gut or skin, and in the soil around farms) at a specific point in time.
Monoclonal antibodies. These are man-made antibodies of predetermined specificity against targets made by identical immune cells derived from a unique parent cell.
Monogenic. A monogenic disease is caused by mutations in a single gene.
Neuroergonomics. This is a research field that investigates the human brain functions—perceptual, cognitive, and motor functions—in relation to behavioral performance in natural environments and everyday settings.
Neuroprosthetics. Hybrid bionic systems that link the human nervous system to computers, thereby providing motor control and restoring lost sensory function of artificial limbs.
Next-generation sequencing (NGS). This is a catch-all term that refers to a range of modern high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies in which millions or billions of small DNA fragments can be sequenced in parallel. The sequences of these small fragments will be pieced together by mapping against the human reference genome.
Noninvasive prenatal test (NIPT). Also known as noninvasive prenatal screening or NIPS, this is a noninvasive method for determining the risk that a fetus will be born with certain genetic disorders, primarily used for chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome, by analyzing small cell-free fetal DNA fragments circulating in a pregnant woman’s blood.
Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. An analytical technique for determining molecular structures. Applications include determining the content and purity of a sample as well as its molecular structure, and metabolomics.
Nucleotides. These are the chemical compounds that are the basic structural units of RNA and DNA.
Omics. This is a collective term for technologies that allow the comprehensive identification and quantification of the complete set of molecules (eg, proteins, carbohydrates, lipids) of a biological system (cell, tissue, organ, biological fluid, or organism) at a specific point in time.
Omics and molecular technologies. We define this term to cover the study of omics as well as technologies to engineer (design, synthesize, or modify) the same “omes.”
Outcrossing. This is the transfer of genes from genetically engineered plants into conventional crops or related species in the wild.
Phage. Also known as bacteriophage, this is a virus that infects and replicates within bacteria.
Pharmacogenomics. This is the use of an individual’s genomic profile to optimize the choice of drugs and doses by physicians.
Proteomics. This is the comprehensive identification and quantification of the complete set of proteins of a biological system (cell, tissue, organ, biological fluid, or organism) at a specific point in time.
Phenotype. This is an organism’s observable characteristics that could be influenced both by the genes of the organism and the environment.
Polygenic. Polygenic diseases are caused by more than one gene. Examples of polygenic conditions include hypertension, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. There are often many environmental factors, too, making it more difficult to discern to what degree a disease is genetic even when the multiple genes are identified.
Preimplantation genetic testing. This is genetic testing of an embryo prior to embryo transfer (to a uterus) during IVF. This can be done to test for single gene disorders such as cystic fibrosis (preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD) or overall chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome caused by an extra chromosome (preimplantation
genetic screening, or PGS).
Regenerative medicine. The process of replacing, engineering, or regenerating human or animal cells, tissues, or organs to restore or establish natural function.
Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). A laboratory technique used to make large-scale copies of specific segments of DNA molecules rapidly and precisely outside the body from a mixture of DNA molecules.
Ribonucleic acid (RNA). A biopolymer consists of ribose nucleotides (nitrogenous bases appended to a ribose sugar molecule) connected and forming strands of varying lengths. Unlike most DNA molecules composed of two biopolymer strands, RNA typically is a singlestranded biopolymer. RNA molecules play essential biological roles from translating genetic
information encoded in DNA molecules into the cellular structures and molecular machines (ie, proteins) to regulating the activities of genes.
RNA interference (RNAi). This is an evolutionarily conserved gene silencing technique in which specific genes can be regulated and suppressed at the RNA level.
Single-cell omics. Any of the omics study can be done at a single-cell level. Analyzing a single cell makes it possible to discover mechanisms not seen when studying cells in bulk where variable signals from a heterogenous collection of cells in a typical sample would be averaged out.
Small interfering RNA (siRNA). Central to RNA interference, siRNA is a family of doublestranded non-coding RNA molecules, with typical lengths of 20 to 25 base pairs that regulate the expression of specific genes with complementary nucleotide sequences by degrading their mRNA transcripts, preventing translation.
Stem cell. A type of cell in a multicellular organism that has two capabilities: capable of selfrenewal by producing indefinitely more cells of the same type, and capable of giving rise to many other kinds of cells in the body by differentiation.
Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALEN). TALEN are enzymes engineered to enable targeted modification of any DNA sequence in a large range of organisms.
Transcriptomics. This is the comprehensive identification and quantification of the complete set of RNA transcripts of a biological system (such as the human gut or skin, and in the soil around farms) at a specific point in time.
Whole genome sequencing. This is a method for analyzing the entire DNA sequence of an organism’s genome.
Zinc finger nuclease. A class of engineered proteins that bind DNA and create double strand breaks at user-specified locations to facilitate targeted editing of the genome.