GENERA Glossary

This page will help you to understand the terminology used to describe the scientific studies that are included in GENERA. Some of these are standard terms used everywhere, and some have been developed just for the Atlas.

Search tips are added in italics.

Abstract

The Abstract is a condensed summary of the entire research paper. It gives the most important information about the methods, results, conclusions, and implications of a study. The abstract will give you a basic understanding of the content of the paper, which will help you figure out whether you want to read the whole study to find out more.

Searching the Default Fields will include the abstract text as well as other fields such as keywords and authors. We recommend searching only in the Abstract if there is a term or sentence you expect to find in only this field.

Author

The names of the authors that conducted the research and wrote the research paper. The first author in the list is the primary author, who usually did most of the research and writing, and the last author is usually the principal investigator or faculty adviser.

In GENERA, authors are formatted as either “Last, First MI;” or “Last, FM” depending on whether the study included their entire first name or just their first initial. When you start typing in their name the search page will suggest names that are in the Atlas. If you wish to find all the studies conducted by a single author, we recommend writing only the last name in the search box, or adding additional lines to include the alternate spellings of their first name. Make sure to use the “OR” operator on the left when you add additional search options.

Country

This is the country where the researchers who conducted the study were working. This information is provided in the author affiliation information within each study. While it does not always mean that the research they were doing was conducted within the country that they resided in, it does give you some information about where in the world the scientists are who do research in this field.

Searching for research conducted by a scientist in a particular country will give you every study that has at least one author in that country.

Document Type

This is the type of research document that is covered in GENERA. For more information about what is included in the Atlas, see the What is in GENERA page. Currently, the Atlas includes:

  • Journal article
    Peer-reviewed journal articles and reviews
  • Perspective
    Perspectives are short opinion articles written by scientists that add additional dimensions to the results of scientific studies, such as social, economic, and policy implications. (1 example in GENERA)
  • University report
    These are publications that universities often produce that can communicate the results of extension research, and can be a valuable source of information based on experiences in the field. (1 example in GENERA)

If you only want to look at peer-reviewed journal articles, select “Journal article” in this field and the other document types will be excluded.

Event

When talking about genetically engineered crops, an “event” is a particular insertion of a gene into a specific location in a genome. During the process of generating a genetically engineered plant, many events are created in random locations, and each one is usually given a name (Such as MON810 or NK603). Then the best-performing event is selected to be developed into a crop that will be commercialized and released to farmers. The name given to the event is used to identify it in legal documents and scientific studies. Each different event can be bred into different varieties, and several can be bred into the same variety, so some genetically engineered crops may contain more than one event.

Events are going to be added during the second phase of GENERA development, and as such, there are currently few events identified in the Atlas.

Funding

Most studies disclose their funding source within the study itself, and we have coded this funding information into the Atlas so that you can better understand the sources that have financially supported the research. Not every study has disclosed this information, so to fill this information gap we are contacting the authors of each study to attempt to determine this information so that we can add it to the Atlas. If you have any information about the funding sources for a study, please feel free to contact us.

Funding Country

This refers to the country in which the funding source for a study is located. For government agencies, it refers to the country that the agency belongs to, and for private companies and NGOs, it refers to the primary country where they are incorporated and have their headquarters located. In contrast to the “Country”

Some studies may be funded by organizations in more than one country. This is distinct from the”Country” tab which identified the countries that the authors of each study are from.

Funding Source

This refers to the specific funding agency, organization, private company, or individual named in the paper, or determined through research and correspondence with the study authors.

Some studies may refer to the same agency or funding organization in different ways. Check for alternate spellings, abbreviations, or names when searching by funding source.

Funding Type

This refers to the type of funding source that contributed funding to the study. We have organized these sources into 8 categories from government to industry, NGOs, and individuals. Read the descriptions below to find out more about them.

  • government
    The funding came from a national or state government agency, granting program, or state university.
  • industry: same
    The funding came from a private biotechnology company that develops genetically engineered plants for commercialization, or develops traits for licensing to other companies. This also includes farmers and companies that produce and sell genetically engineered foods.
  • industry: competing
    The funding came from a private company that competes for market share against biotechnology companies, farmers, food producers or retailers that sell genetically engineered foods. This also includes companies that develop products intended to replace or augment the performance of a GE crop.
  • industry: other
    The funding came from a private company that does not appear to have a specific commercial interest in the sale of genetically engineered crops, nor in the sale of competing products.
  • NGO: independent
    The funding came from a non-governmental organization (NGO), usually a non-profit organization, which is not affiliated with does not appear to be significantly funded by the biotechnology industry or any competing industry.
  • NGO: same industry aligned
    The funding came from an NGO which is affiliated with and/or significantly funded by the biotechnology industry, which would indicate a financial dependence on that industry.
  • NGO: competing industry aligned
    The funding came from an NGO which is affiliated with and/or significantly funded by a competing industry, which would indicate a financial dependence on that industry.
  • individual
    The funding came from an individual person or an unincorporated association of individuals, or was self-funded.
  • Not reported
    This means that the funding source was not reported in the body of the study and that we were unable to reach the study authors for clarification.
  • Unknown
    This means that the funding source was not reported in the body of the study, and that we were able to reach the study authors but they were unable to recall or find information about the specific funding for that study.
  • Refused to disclose
    This means that the funding source was not reported in the body of the study, and that we were able to reach the study authors but they refused to disclose the source of funding.

Some studies may be funded by more than one type of funding organization. If you want to search for studies that have only been funded by one type of funding source, search for that funding source on one line, and then add additional lines to exclude the other funding sources with the “NOT” operator. If you want to find studies funded by all categories of industry, or all types of NGOs, just search for “industry” or “NGO” in the Funding Type search box.

GE Organism

This refers to the organism that has been genetically engineered.

Most will use their common names such as maize, soybean, or cotton, however some like Arabidopsis or newly-developed crops will be identified by their scientific names.

GE Trait

A trait is a characteristic of an organism, and when discussing transgenic crops, the GE Trait refers to the new characteristic that was introduced into the plants. These are broad categories that

  • Herbicide tolerance
    This trait means that the plants have been engineered to be tolerant to an herbicide so that the field may be sprayed with that herbicide to kill the weeds without harming the crop.
  • Insect resistance
    This trait means that the plants have been engineered to be resistant to insect pests. This can be achieved by introducing a gene that harms, kills, or wards off insects that would otherwise feed on the plants.
  • Disease resistance
    This trait means that the plants have been engineered to be resistant to a disease such as a fungus or a virus.
  • Nematode resistance
    This trait means that the plants have been engineered to be resistant to parasitic nematodes, which are tiny roundworms that live in the soil.
  • Agronomic properties
    This trait means that the growth characteristics of the plants in the field have been modified in some way. Some examples of this include making the plants more tolerant to drought and cold temperatures.
  • Quality
    This trait means that the plant has been modified so that the food quality has been changed. This could include modifying the starch profile in grains, and increasing minerals and micronutrients.
  • Marker
    This trait means that the study looked at the impact of marker genes, which are used by genetic engineers to make sure that they introduced the gene they wanted to into the plant. These include antibiotic markers, color markers, and proteins that glow such as GFP.
  • Multiple
    This means that the research paper or review looked at many different traits, or that the phenomenon that was studied applies broadly to many different kinds of GE traits. This might include general risk assessment, comparisons between different genetic modification techniques, or systematic reviews.
  • Phytoremediation
    This trait means that the plants have been engineered for the purpose of removing toxic or dangerous substances from the environment, which is known as phytoremediation. This could include removing heavy metal contamination or neutralizing chemicals such as PCBs and TNT.
  • Pharamaceutical
    This trait means that the plants have been engineered to produce a substance for pharmaceutical purposes. This can include vaccines produced in plants, to antibodies used in medicine.
  • Industrial product
    This trait means that the plants have been engineered to produce a substance for industrial uses. This can include novel compounds such as polymers and starches.
  • Other
    This trait means that the plants have been engineered with a trait that does not fit into the above categories. One example are roses engineered to produce a new color.

Some studies may do research on more than one type of trait. If you want to search for studies that are only conducted on one type of trait, search for that trait on one line, and then add additional lines to exclude the other traits with the “NOT” operator. You can check that you have properly excluded the other studies by making a chart of the GE trait to see that the only trait that shows up in your search is the trait you are interested in.

Journal

This is the name of the peer-reviewed journal that each scientific study is published in.

There are many different scientific journals that publish research on genetically engineered crops. Before searching on the basis of journal name, we recommend making a chart of the journals from a search of all the studies in the Atlas so you can see which ones are important.

Keywords

Some studies list keywords after the abstract to assist with searching. We have copied these keywords into GENERA and formatted them so that they can be searched independently. Sometimes we will add a few that are applicable.

Each study author and journal chooses their own keywords, so the consistency may not be ideal. The keywords are included in the Default Fields search option, so if you are searching for a specific term it may be more effective to use the default search box.

Links to outside analysis of this resource

The GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas reports the conclusions of each study, and does not judge the quality, or question their conclusions. However, some studies have received additional scrutiny and responses than others, and some studies are responses to each other. To help users find out more about these studies and the scientific and public debate around them, we will include links to outside analyses for some of these. These links to not necessarily imply endorsement of the views expressed in these analyses. If you wish to suggest a scholarly analysis for consideration in this section under a study you can do so on our contact page.

Month

Peer-reviewed scientific journals tend to publish one issue per month, or one every few months. This is the month or months when the issue containing the scientific study was published.

If you wish to search for studies within a range of dates, select the Time Range option from the dropdown menu.

Open Access

Many studies are published in journals that require a subscription (such as an institutional subscription from a University) before you can read the study. In contrast, open access means that downloading and reading the study is unrestricted, so it is open for everyone to read. If you do not have access to traditional scientific journals, you will still be able to access and read studies published in open access journals.

To restrict your search to open access journals, select Open Access in the dropdown menu and enter “yes” in the search field. “No” will retrieve studies that are not open access.

Publication Status

The primary goal of the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas is to make it easier to find reliable, peer-reviewed scientific research. However, sometimes a study may be retracted, withdrawn, or has been published under special circumstances. To help you become aware of these changes in the publication status, we tag each study with this information, and explain the history of studies that have gone through these processes.

  • Retracted
    This refers to when a paper has been retracted by a journal or by its authors. Removing research from the scientific record is a careful process, and is usually done for cases of fraud, abuse, research ethics, and omitted or misinterpreted data. The purpose of a retraction is to remove faulty conclusions from the scientific record. When a study is retracted, it can typically no longer be cited as supporting evidence for other research.
  • Withdrawn
    A study that has been accepted by a scientific journal and appears online and not in print, but is later removed due to duplication, or the paper was found to not be relevant or is later rejected by the journal.
  • Special circumstances
    This refers to studies that have been published under special or odd circumstances, such as publishing a flawed study for critical review, or explaining some other unique publication situation. In these cases, the journal will accompany the study with an explanation of its publication. A designation of Special circumstances does not necessarily indicate that there is an issue with the study.

If you want to exclude studies from your search that have been retracted, withdrawn, or were published under special circumstances, add a line with the “NOT” operator and select these terms from the Publication Status field.

Publication History

This is where the history of the study will be described, such as when it was retracted and for what reasons. Essentially, this area of the study page will explain the Publication Status. Studies that do not have any details that are unusual will not have this section displayed.

Results

To make it easier to understand and compare the conclusions of every study in the Atlas, we are reading and classifying the results of each study for four different categories of risk: Efficacy, Equivalence, Safety for Consumption, and Safety for Environment. Each study is rated with the same terminology: Positive effect, no effect, mixed, and negative effect, and while these are the same, their implications may differ for each category of risk. Read the sections below to find out what these risk categories cover and what the results mean.

Each study will have only one conclusion in each Results category, but not every study will have results in all of them. Most studies focus on one or two aspects, so the results in only those areas will be reported. When you chart a search on the basis of its results, the chart will only include studies that have results in that category.

Results: Efficacy

The efficacy category includes studies that assess whether or not genetic engineering (GE) was effective at achieving a desired result. This may include studies that determine whether GE crops are resistant to insects or produce more nutrients, etc.

Broadly, this category answers the question: Do genetically engineered crops work?

  • Positive effect
    For efficacy studies, a positive effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach achieved the desired result, and in studies that compare different methods, the GE approach was more effective than other approaches.
  • No effect
    For efficacy studies, no effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach did not achieve the desired result, or in comparison studies that it was no better than other approaches at meeting that objective.
  • Mixed
    For efficacy studies, a mixed result means that the researchers did not clearly conclude that the GE approach was effective or not at achieving the desired result, and/or the data was a mixture of positive, negative, and/or neutral results.
  • Negative effect
    For efficacy studies, a negative effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach was less effective than other approaches. In the case that a GE crop was previously effective but is now no longer effective (i.e. development of resistance) this result will be rated as negative.

Generally in this category, positive effects are considered desirable outcomes, negative and no effects are undesirable, and mixed effects speak to the difficulty of interpreting data.

Results: Equivalence

The equivalence category includes studies that assess whether or not genetic engineering (GE) significantly alters the characteristics of the plant or the food it produces in way that was not intended. This includes studies that measure the composition of the food, the growth and yield of the plants, gene expression, and other traits and characteristics. In the case of GE traits where a characteristic is intended to be changed, such as enhancing nutrient quality, it will not be included under equivalence but will instead be measured in terms of efficacy above. The exception is if the study also assessed other characteristics of the plants or food that were not intended to be changed by the GE approach.

Broadly, this category answers the question: Are genetically engineered crops equivalent to non-GE crops?

  • Positive effect
    For equivalence studies, a positive effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach caused fewer changes than other methods of genetic modification (applies to comparisons).
  • No effect
    For equivalence studies, no effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach did not cause significant unexpected changes to the crop or to the food that it produces. In the case of comparison studies it means that they found that the changes caused by the GE approach were similar to the changes caused by other methods.
  • Mixed
    For equivalence studies, a mixed result means that the researchers did not clearly conclude that the GE approach caused or did not cause significant changes, and/or the data was a mixture of positive, negative, and/or neutral results.
  • Negative effect
    For equivalence studies, a negative effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE caused significant unexpected changes to the crop or the food it produces. In the case of comparison studies, this means that they concluded that the GE approach caused more unexpected changes than other approaches.

Generally in this category, positive and no effects are considered desirable outcomes, negative effects are undesirable, and mixed effects speak to the difficulty of interpreting data.

Results: Safety for Consumption

The safety for consumption category includes studies that assess various aspects of the safety of consuming genetically engineered crops or products derived from them. These include feeding studies, allergenicity assessments, and studies that examine the impact of nutritional intervention with GE approaches.

Broadly, this category answers the question: Are genetically engineered crops safe to eat?

  • Positive effect
    For safety for consumption studies, a positive effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach was safer or more healthful than non-GE crops and approaches.
  • No effect
    For safety for consumption studies, no effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach was as safe or healthy as non-GE crops and approaches.
  • Mixed
    For safety for consumption studies, a mixed result means that the researchers did not clearly conclude whether the GE approach was more or less safe or healthy than non-GE crops or approaches, and/or the data was a mixture of positive, negative, and/or neutral results.
  • Negative effect
    For safety for consumption studies, a negative effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach had a detrimental impact on the safety or healthfulness of the food.

Generally in this category, positive and no effects are considered desirable outcomes, negative effects are undesirable, and mixed effects speak to the difficulty of interpreting data.

Results: Safety for Environment

The safety for environment category includes studies that measure the environmental impact of genetic engineering with various methods. This includes studying the effects on pesticide usage, beneficial insects, non-target organisms in the environment, and ecosystem impacts.

Broadly, this category answers the question: Are genetically engineered crops safe for the environment?

  • Positive effect
    For safety for environment studies, a positive effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach had a beneficial impact on the environment or on non-target species such as beneficial organisms. In comparison studies this means that the GE approach was less harmful than other approaches.
  • No effect
    For safety for environment studies, no effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach had no harmful impact on the environment, or in comparison studies the GE approach was equivalent in its environmental impact to other approaches.
  • Mixed
    For safety for environment studies, a mixed result means that the researchers did not clearly conclude that the GE approach had a beneficial, neutral, or detrimental impact on the environment, and/or the data is a mixture of positive, negative, and/or neutral results.
  • Negative effect
    For safety for environment studies, a negative effect means that the researchers concluded that the GE approach caused an detrimental impact on the environment or on non-target species.

Generally in this category, positive and no effects are considered desirable outcomes, negative effects are undesirable, and mixed effects speak to the difficulty of interpreting data.

Review

Review studies summarize the results of many studies at once, and give a broader picture of what each individual study means. Meta-analyses, which do the same but combine the data from many studies mathematically, can also find broad patterns in research. These studies are a good place to start to learn about overall research trends, and familiarize yourself with what is established or controversial in a particular field.

When searching for review studies in GENERA, search yes to select review studies, or select no to select only studies that are not reviews.

Test Organism

Some scientific studies measure or estimate the impact of genetically engineered crops on other organisms. This can include feeding them to birds, mammals, fish, and humans to look at safety or efficacy of the new traits, or measuring the impact of the new trait on insects and other organisms in the field for environmental impact assessments. Whenever we identify a study that was tested in some way on another organism we list those organisms in this field. This doesn’t mean that they were all tested in the same way on these organisms, for instance research on humans often involves pinprick tests for allergenicity of proteins, but can also include food eating/food challenge studies for safety or nutritional assessment.

While feeding studies are straightforward with what organisms they test GE foods on, environmental impact studies may examine different combinations of organisms that may be broadly similar but show up differently in the database as a result. We use the terms that each study uses, so one study may state that they look at Arthropods, and another may state that they looked at insects. Some will say that they looked at Coleopterans, and another will say beetles or one specific beetle. When the common name and scientific name are given, we put them both in the database to make the studies easier to find. If you are looking for studies on particular groups of organisms, we recommend first charting the organisms for the kind of study you are looking for, and then using search terms on multiple lines with each term that applies, separated by the “OR” operator on the left.

Title

The title of the study.

Type of Study

Each individual research project may use different kinds of methods and analyze different outcomes. While the Results section categorizes studies based on outcomes in broad categories related to risk, those descriptions do not fully describe how each study reached those conclusions. We are currently creating a standard list of different types of studies that we will apply to each study in the Atlas for a later version. Some studies may have this information already displayed.

Because this is a future expansion of the information contained in GENERA, searching on the basis of this field will not yield many results.

Year

The year in which the study was published.

If you wish to search for studies within a range of dates, select the Time Range option from the dropdown menu.