Our glossary is still under construction. We add new terms and information periodically. If you have suggestions of terms you’d like to see here, email us at: seedmap@usc-canada.org

Accession – An acquisition or something that has been added to an existing collection. In the context of ex situ conservation, accession refers to a sample of a population that has been acquired by a seed bank.

Adaptation – The process of adapting of being adapted. Adaptation is often used to refer to strategies that seek to adapt organism and ecosystems (natural and human-made) to climate change, such as altering infrastructure to be more resilient (see Resilience) or better able to withstand the impacts of climate change.

Agroecology – Agroecology is the science and know-how behind sustainable agriculture. It combines scientific inquiry with the place-based knowledge and innovation of indigenous and peasant farming communities. Agroecology’s core principles include recycling locally available resources for soil fertility and biological control, integrating crops and livestock, maximizing biodiversity, and emphasizing interactions and productivity across the agricultural system.

Agrofuels – Agrofuels (also known as biofuels) are produced from industrially-produced plant crops and are usually blended with petrol or diesel for use in vehicles.  Agrofuels can include ethanol (which is made from sugarcane and  maize) and biodiesel (made from oil palm, soy and jatropha).

Aquaculture – The farming of aquatic organisms – including microorganisms, plants, invertebrates and finfish. Aquaculture operations vary in size from household level to large commercial operations.

Biodiversity – Also known Biological Diversity, biodiversity refers to the variety of species and ecosystems on Earth and the ecological processes of which they are a part. Three components of biodiversity are ecosystem, species and genetic diversity; Ecosystems perform functions that are essential to human existence such as oxygen and soil production and water purification. Biodiversity is not evenly distributed and varies greatly across the globe as well as within regions. Diversity depends on temperature, precipitation, altitude, soils, geography and presence of other species—as such, diversity consistently measures higher in the tropics (i.e. Rain forests) and measures lower in Polar Regions.

Bioenergy – Bioenergy is derived from fuels that are made from biomass (living organisms or their byproducts). Usually considered to be a renewable energy source, pollution is nonetheless created through combustion. Corn and soybeans are often grown as bioenergy sources, and biodegradable waste such as food waste, manure and sewage can also be used in bioenergy production.

Centre of Crop Diversity – Refers to a geographical area containing a high level of genetic diversity for crop (or livestock) species in its natural habitat or environment (i.e., in situ conditions).

Centre of Origin – Refers to a geographic area where a plant or livestock species, domesticated or wild, first developed its distinctive properties.

Civil society organization (CSO) – Civil society organizations are groups that are separate from government and business. They are non-profit organizations seeking to work toward some form of social, political and environmental change. They can operate at an international, national or local level. Examples of civil society organizations can include religious groups, trade unions, NGOs and other advocacy organizations.

Conservation Ex situ – Conservation method that removes germplasm resources (seed, pollen, sperm, individual organisms) from their original habitat or natural environment.  Gene banks and botanical gardens are examples of ex situ conservation.

Conservation In situ – Conservation method that preserves the genetic integrity of resources by conserving them within the evolutionary dynamic ecosystems of the original habitat or natural environment.  This includes on-farm conservation of genetic resources and community seed bank (also known as field gene banks). Storing genetic material on farms, rather than in ex situ gene banks, means that it can evolve and adapt to changing environmental conditions, new pests and diseases that it may encounter. This is especially important in allowing plants to adapt to the new conditions that may result from climate change.

Domestication – The evolution of plants or animals either naturally or through artificial selection, to develop traits more useful to humankind.

Food Security – Food Security differs from Food Sovereignty and refers to the availability of food and one’s access to it. The concept means that people can access adequate amounts of food and nutrition regardless of procurement or production methods.

Food Sovereignty – Coined by La Via Campesina in 1996, Food Sovereignty is defined as ‘the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems’. In a nutshell, Food Sovereignty puts producers and democracy at the centre of our food systems. Whereas food security is concerned with equal access to food, food sovereignty focuses on the right of peoples to define and control their own food systems. The concept was further defined at the First Forum for Food Sovereignty held in Sélingué, Mali in 2007. The resulting Nyéléni Declaration  established six pillars for Food Sovereignty: Focuses on Food for People; Values Food Providers; Localizes Food Systems; Puts Control Locally; Builds Knowledge and Skills; Works with Nature.

Gene Bank – Type of biorepository, which preserve genetic material. In efforts to conserve agricultural biodiversity, gene banks are used to store and conserve the plant genetic resources of major crop plants and their crop wild relatives. This could be by freezing cuttings from the plant, or stocking the seeds (e.g. in a seedbank). For animals, this is the freezing of sperm and eggs in zoological freezers until further need.

Genetic Diversity – Refers to the total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of a species. Genetic diversity serves as a way for populations to adapt to changing environments, with more variation, it is more likely that some individuals in a population will possess of alleles—one of a number of alternative forms of the same gene—that are suited for the environment, making them more likely to survive.

Genetically Engineered (GE) – Genetic engineering is recombinant DNA technology, also called genetic modification. With genetic engineering scientists can change plants or animals at the molecular level by inserting genes or DNA segments from other organisms. Unlike conventional breeding and hybridization, the process of genetic engineering enables the reordering of genetic sequences or the direct transfer of genes between different organism, varieties, species or kingdoms that would not breed in nature. Organisms that have been genetically engineered are referred to as ‘genetically modified organisms’ (GMOs).

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) – GMOS  are crops that have been modified at the molecular level by inserting genes or DNA segments from other organisms with the use of DNA technology. All of these transformations are patented by the industry that develops them therefore facilitatating corporate control over seeds and other genetic material.

Genetic Resources (GR) – Genetic resources refer to genetic material of actual or potential value. Genetic material is any material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity. Examples include material of plant, animal, or microbial origin, such as medicinal plants, agricultural crops and animal breeds.

Germplasm – Plant germplasm is the living tissue from which new plants can be grown. Germplasm is usually seed, or it can be another plant part — a stem, a leaf, or pollen, for example, or even just a few cells that can be cultured into a whole plant. Plant germplasm contains the genetic information for the plant’s hereditary makeup.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) – Set of practices designed to lessen dependence on chemical pesticides, such as crop rotation, selective spraying, or timing the planting cycles (i.e., crop maturity and harvest) to avoid the worst periods of pest infestation. Strategies are based upon the specific ecosystem in which they are used, and focus on the long-term prevention of damage from pests. Techniques that may be used in IPM strategies include biological control, habitat manipulation, cultural practices and the use of resistant varieties of crops.

Intellectual property – Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce. IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright and trademarks, which enable people to earn recognition or financial benefit from what they invent or create.  Intellectual property rights have played a huge role in major corporations’ production of genetically modified organisms, often to the detriment of small-scale and organic farmers. In the context of seeds, property is guaranteed through laws that recognize either patents or Plant Variety Certificates (see Plant Variety Protection).

Invertebrate – An animal lacking a backbone, such as an arthropod, mollusc, annelid, coelenterate, etc. The invertebrates constitute an artificial division of the animal kingdom, comprising 95 per cent of animal species and about thirty different phyla. Common examples of invertebrates are insects, worms, clams, crabs, octopus, snails and starfish.

Mitigation – The action of reducing the severity, seriousness or painfulness of something. Climate change mitigation is used to refer to strategies that seek to stop or slow down climate change such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Patent – Licence conferring a right or title over a product for a set period (generally 20 years in the case of seeds). Patents have been used by corporations to secure the rights over genetically engineered seed and herbicide they produce. In a similar manner as Plant Variety Protection, patents give property rights not only over seeds but also over the harvested and even processed crops. But in contrast to plant variety protection, patents prohibit the use of patented crops in order to develop another crop. GMOs tend to be protected by a patent. Plant variety protection and patents developed as two different systems, but today they tend to complement each other in guaranteeing property rights over living organisms.

Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) – Similar to intellectual property rights, PBR’s are granted to, and give exclusive rights to the breeder (or creator) of a new variety of plant. This gives the breeder the exclusive control over the variety (including seed, cuttings, divisions and tissue culture) for a number of years. The breeder can decide to become the exclusive marketer of the variety or can license the variety to others. For the breeder to gain these rights, the variety must be deemed new, distinct, uniform and stable. It cannot have been commercialized for more than one year (in a country that recognizes breeder/patent rights) and is only considered distinct from all other known varieties if it differs by one or more important botanical characteristics (i.e. height, maturity, colour etc).