Biotechnology Dictionary

If you are in the business of biotech, the alphabet soup of similar-sounding or re-purposed terms can be quite confusing. Principle Point offers our biotech and medical dictionary of more than 1,000 terms, which will be updated periodically as needed. Please let us know if you think we should add a term or if an existing definition needs clarification.

Abiotic stress

Abiotic stress describes outside (nonliving) factors which can cause harmful effects to plants, such as soil conditions, drought, extreme temperatures.


An abscess is a local accumulation of puss anywhere in the body.

ACE inhibitor

An ACE inhibitor is a drug that inhibits angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which is important to the formation of angiotensin II. While angiotensin II causes arteries to constrict and thereby raises blood pressure, ACE inhibitors lower blood pressure by inhibiting the formation of angiotensin... [ read more ]

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). AIDS refers to the most advanced stage of HIV. Diagnosis of HIV infection is characterized by a gradual deterioration of immune function, where immune cells called CD4+ T cells are... [ read more ]


In immunology, activation is the immune response of an organism to a foreign substance. In contrast, lack of a response is called tolerance.

Activation energy

Activation energy is the energy required to raise a set of products, or an enzyme-substrate complex, to the transition state, where it can then be converted to a product. For example, one must add enough energy or the proper catalyst to hydrogen peroxide in order to drive the reaction to produce... [ read more ]

Active site

The active site of an enzyme is where binding and catalysis of a biochemical reaction occurs. In particular, the active site is the amino acid residues of an enzyme that interact with a substrate or are involved in any way in binding or catalysis.

Active transport

Active transport is an energy-requiring transport mechanism in cell biology. This process requires energy to work against a concentration gradient.

Acute leukemia

Acute leukemia is characterized by a block in differentiation of immature, functionless cells that accumulate in the marrow and blood. The marrow can no longer produce enough normal red and white blood cells and platelets. Thus, acute leukemias are characterized by bone marrow failure and tissue... [ read more ]

Adaptive radiation

Adaptive radiation involves the evolution of new species to fill previously unoccupied ecological niches.


An adjuvant is a substance that either helps and enhances the pharmacological effect of a drug or increases the ability of an antigen to stimulate the immune system. Adjuvant therapy for cancer is surgery followed by chemotherapy or radiation to help decrease the risk of the cancer recurring. In... [ read more ]


An aerobe is a microorganism capable of growth in the presence of oxygen.

Agarose gel electrophoresis

Agarose gel electrophoresis involves a matrix composed of a highly purified form of agar that is used to separate larger DNA and RNA molecules ranging 20,000 nucleotides. (See Electrophoresis.)


Alleles are genetic locations on paired, homologous chromosomes in diploid organisms, where the DNA may have similar but alternate sequences that impart unique phenotypes (hair color, predisposition to disease, etc.).

Alternative mRNA splicing

Alternative mRNA splicing is the transcription process whereby unique mRNA transcripts are created by including or excluding different exons from the original gene. (See RNA.)

Amino acid

Amino acids are biochemicals considered to be the building blocks of biology, with the 20 common amino acids making up the proteins of biological organisms.  They are composed of a free amino acid end (-NH2) and a free carboxyl end (-COOH), with any of a number of side groups (-R) that create... [ read more ]

Ampicillin (beta-lactamase)

Ampicillin is a penicillin-derived antibiotic that kills bacteria by interfering with the synthesis of bacterial cell walls.  Since animal (e.g., human) cells do not have cell walls, the antibiotic is very specific in its bacterial cell growth inhibition.


In molecular biology, amplify means to replicate a DNA sequence repeatedly, typically using the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technique.


An anaerobe is a biological organism able to grow without oxygen. See Aerobe.


In molecular biology, to anneal is to pair complementary DNA or RNA sequences to form a double-stranded DNA or RNA via hydrogen bonding.


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