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Glossary of Genetic Terms

The application of ethical reflection to choices in biology-related fields, such as health care, agriculture, and ecology. Our ability to manipulate DNA raises ethical concerns about the social and environmental consequences genomic technologies will have on our lives.

The application of biological techniques to the manufacture of products. Commonly used biotechnology products include many antibiotics, vaccines, and crops.

The basic unit from which all living things are made. Each cell contains a complete copy of an organism's genome.

In cells, DNA is tightly wound into structures called chromosomes. Humans have 46 chromosomes in each of their cells, 23 from each parent.

Making many identical copies of a cell or a DNA molecule. The use of specialized DNA technology to produce multiple, exact copies of a single gene or cell. Reproductive cloning creates an embryo that grows into a genetic copy of the organism from which the cell was taken, resulting in a complete, genetically identical animal such as the famous Scottish sheep, Dolly. Therapeutic cloning creates an embryo from which stem cells are extracted and theoretically used to treat conditions like Alzheimer’s or organ failure.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)
The molecule that provides the instructions required to make and maintain a living thing. A DNA molecule is made up of two long strings of chemicals called nucleotides. These two strings wind around one another to form a double helix.

The study of improving a species by artificial selection, eugenics usually refers to the selective breeding of humans.

The fundamental unit of heredity, composed of a specific sequence of DNA that controls the expression of one or more hereditary traits. Almost all genes contain the instructions for making a specific protein.
The scientific study of individual genes and inheritance patterns of specific traits.

Genetic Engineering
Any one of several techniques for the laboratory manipulation of genes, such as recombinant DNA technology. When reproductive cells are modified, this is called germ-line or heritable gene modification, and the changes made affect all descendants. When cells other than reproductive cells are modified, this is called somatic-cell or non-inheritable gene modification, and the changes affect only the individual.

Genetically Modified Organism
An organism that has been modified by the application of recombinant DNA technology.

All the genetic material in the chromosomes of an organism, whether animal, plant, or microbe; its size is generally given as the total number of base pairs. (The human genome contains about 3.1 billion base pairs.)

The study of genomes, which includes genome mapping, gene sequencing, and gene function.

Green Florescent Protein. Genetic technicians have taken green florescent protein from the Pacific jellyfish Aequorea victoria, and spliced it into the genes of mouse and rabbit zygotes (fertilized cells). The resulting animals glow with a greenish tint when exposed to fluorescent light.

Human Genome Project
The national and international effort to determine the sequence of the nucleotides that make up the human genome. The HGP completed the first draft sequence of the human genome in 2000 and is now dedicated to analyzing that sequence. While the HGP has greatly accelerated the discovery of many genes, most genes have yet to be discovered. Identifying all human genes, and understanding how they function, will probably take several decades.

The offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties, for example, a mule—a hybrid of a male donkey and a mare.

Informed Consent
The process in which a person is given all the relevant information about a health care decision and voluntarily agrees to it. The concept is based upon the principle that a physician has a duty to disclose information that allows the patient to be an informed participant in his or her own treatment. It is not clear how genomic technologies will affect the informed consent process.
A change in the order of the nucleotides that make up DNA. Some mutations can cause disease, others provide healthy variation in a population, and others have no effect.

A subunit of DNA or RNA, it consists of nitrogenous base (adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T), or cytosine (C) in DNA; adenine (A), guanine (G), uracil (U), or cytosine (C) in RNA), a phosphate molecule, and a sugar molecule (deoxyribose in DNA and ribose in RNA). Thousands of nucleotides are linked to form a DNA or RNA molecule. It is the sequence and number of nucleotides that determine the species and details of an organism.

The active molecules in all cells, proteins are responsible for almost all of the functions and structures of living things. A gene contains the instructions for making a specific type of protein. Examples are hormones, enzymes, and antibodies.

Recombinant DNA technology
Procedure used to join together DNA segments in a test tube. Under appropriate conditions, a recombinant DNA molecule can enter a cell and replicate there, either autonomously or after it has become integrated into a chromosome. The technique of cutting DNA from one organism and inserting it into the DNA of another, invented in 1972, created the field of genetic engineering.

RNA (Ribonucleic acid)
A chemical closely related to DNA, RNA is responsible for translating the information in DNA into proteins.

Stem Cells
The unspecialized cells found in early-stage embryos and some adult tissues that can turn into nearly every cell type in the body. (An embryo is essentially a ball of stem cells that evolves into a fetus when the cells start specializing.)

Experimentally produced organisms in which DNA has been artificially introduced and incorporated into the organism's gene line.

Edited by Karen L. Bennett, BAM/PFA Assistant Curator for Education

Visit the Gene(sis) Exhibition Website.

The exhibition was organized by the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, in affiliation with the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The exhibition is curated by the Henry Art Gallery’s Associate Curator Robin Held and, for the Berkeley presentation, BAM/PFA Senior Curator for Exhibitions Constance Lewallen and Associate Curator Alla Efimova.

The exhibition and related programs are made possible with generous support from the Animating Democracy Initiative, a program of Americans for the Arts, funded by the Ford Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; The Rockefeller Foundation; The Allen Foundation for the Arts; PONCHO; The Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities; SAFECO; King County Arts Commission Special Projects Program; ZymoGenetics, Inc.; and The University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences, as well as in-kind support from Carl Zeiss, Inc.; The Grand Hyatt Seattle; Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media; KUOW Public Radio; WRQ, Inc.; New Concepts Prototyping; Speakeasy Network; Northwest Mannequin; University of Washington Division of Genetic Pathology; and University Bookstore Computer and Electronics Center.

The BAM/PFA presentation of Gene(sis): Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics is supported by the Consortium for the Arts, the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities, and UC Extension at UC Berkeley, and by The Harold and Alma White Memorial Fund. The exclusive media sponsor for Gene(sis) is San Francisco Bay Guardian.