Check out our new site currently under development, combining the Biotechnology and Science Learning Hubs with a new look and new functionality.

Skip to page content

Site navigation


Glossary

An alphabetical glossary of technical terms used on the site.

Pākehā

A person of predominantly European descent.

Pandemic

The worldwide spread of a disease.

Parameter

The key features that define structure and influence performance.

Parameters

Limits of measurement.

Parasite

An organism that lives in or on another organism. Parasites usually cause harm to their host organism.

Parkinson’s disease

A disease that affects the brain’s ability to control muscles, which can cause muscle stiffness, slowness, difficulty starting movements and tremors.

Pasteurisation

The process of heating a liquid to kill microorganisms, commonly used for milk and some cheeses but can also apply to honey.

Patent

A set of rights given by a federal government to an inventor to protect an invention and prevent others from making, using, or selling it, or claiming it as theirs.

Pathogen

An organism, such as a virus, bacterium or fungus, that causes disease in another organism.

Pathogenic

Harmful; capable of causing disease.

Pathophysiology

The physical symptoms associated with a particular disease.

Penetrance

A measure of whether the presence of a gene will result in its associated trait being observed.

Peptide

Two or more amino acids linked together to form a chain.

Peptidomics

The study of the peptidome: all the peptides synthesised in a particular cell or organism at a particular point in time.

Pericardium

A two-layered membrane surrounding the heart.

Peristalsis

Wavelike contractions that move food through the digestive tract.

Pesticide

A chemical used to kill pests, like insects or fungi growing on crops.

pH

A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a substance, based on a scale of 0 to 14. Acidic solutions have pH values less than 7, whereas alkaline solutions have pH values greater than 7.

Phagocyte

A type of white blood cell that can engulf and destroy foreign organisms, like bacteria, and get rid of cell debris or particles.

Pharmaceutical

A chemical drug.

Phase I trial

The first clinical trial of a new drug or treatment on a small number of people. Phase I trials are used to find out how best to administer a treatment and whether it is safe.

Phase II trial

A clinical trial to test if a new drug or treatment helps patients. Phase II trials are used to work out how much drug should be given and how effective it is.

Phase III trial

A clinical trial to determine whether a new drug or treatment is better than, worse than, or the same as existing treatments. Phase III trials involve a large number of patients.

PhD

Abbreviation of Doctor of Philosophy – a degree normally obtained after a concentrated period of research. This is the highest level of degree that involves supervision by academic staff at a university.

Phenotype

Observable traits or characteristics of an organism.

Pheromone

A chemical message emitted by insects or animals. It can attract members of the opposite sex, mark territory or act as a warning.

Photo-microscopy

This technique involves a camera connected to a microscope, and is used to record details of structures inside cells and microorganisms.

Photosynthesis

A process in green plants and some microorganisms that changes carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates using the energy in sunlight. The process often releases oxygen into the atmosphere as a by-product.

Phylogenetics

The systematic study of organism relationships based on evolutionary similarities and differences.

Phylum

A major division in animal classification (below Kingdom and above Class).

Physiology

Biochemical reactions.

Phytochemical

A chemical found in plants, and which may promote health or reduce the risk of disease.

Phytoplankton

Very small plant organisms that drift with water currents and, like land plants, use carbon dioxide, release oxygen and convert minerals to a form animals can use.

Pilling

Forming small balls of fuzz on the fabric surface.

Pilot scale

The size of a system that is between the laboratory bench-size and a full-size system.

Pilot trial

A first test run of a new product, usually on a small scale.

Placebo

An inactive substance or treatment, which is used as a control in clinical trials of a new drug or treatment.

Plant variety right

A plant variety right gives the owner the exclusive right to sell plants and any propagating material of the protected variety.

Plasmid

A short circular DNA sequence found in bacterial cells and occasionally in other cells. Plasmids can replicate independently of the bacterial chromosome.

Plastic

A synthetic material made from a wide range of organic polymers (such as polyethylene, PVC and nylon) that can be moulded into shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form.

Platelet

A blood cell that causes blood clots to form and stop bleeding.

Pluripotent

The ability of a cell to differentiate into many different cell types.

Polar molecule

A molecule that has a slightly positive charge at one end and a slightly negative charge at the other, for example water.

Polyclonal antibody

A mixture of antibodies that together recognise different epitopes, or regions, of a foreign substance.

Polymer

The name given to chemical compounds with a high molecular weight that have a long chain of smaller, identical linked molecules (called monomers).

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)

A laboratory technique used to generate many thousands of copies of a specific DNA sequence.

Polysaccharide

A biopolymer made up of many individual sugar molecules linked together. Examples include cellulose, starch or glycogen.

Polyurethane

A type of material with multiple uses as a plastic, glue, paint, foam, or as a water-resistant coating.

Post mortem

After death.

Post-doctoral

Research of further studies after gaining a Doctor of Philosophy.

Post-graduate study

Study at a level above a Bachelor’s degree.

Pre-clinical

Study of a new drug or treatment before it is given to humans, this is usually done in laboratory models or animals.

Prebiotic

A substance that feeds good bacteria in the gut.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis

A test for chromosomal or genetic abnormalities in a developing embryo after in vitro fertilisation.

Primary production

The production of natural products, for example meat, wool, crops, and wood.

Primate

A mammal of the order Primates that includes lemurs, marmosets, monkeys, apes and humans.

Primer

A short sequence of DNA that binds to a complementary sequence in a gene and starts DNA replication.

Probiotic

Microorganisms, usually bacteria, which have health benefits, and can be used to inhibit the presence of other, harmful microorganisms.

Prodrug

An inactive form of a drug; the drug is converted to its active form by processes in the body of the person that has taken it.

Progeny

Offspring of animals or plants.

Prokaryote

Single celled organism which does not contain any internal membranes, such as a nuclear membrane. Includes all bacteria.

Promoter

A DNA sequence where RNA polymerase binds to begin transcription.

proof of principle

Providing evidence for a particular principle or idea.

Propagation

Increasing plant numbers using seeds, cutting, division, grafting or other methods. Can be sexual (for example, seeds) or asexual (for example, grafting). Asexual propagation results in many plants that are genetically identical (clones).

Propolis

A wax-like substance collected by honey bees from tree buds. It is used to seal gaps in the hive.

Prostate

A small gland at the base of a man's bladder.

Protease

A type of enzyme that speeds up the breakdown of proteins.

Protein

An organic molecule that consists of amino acids joined together in a specific linear sequence. Proteins play a central role in biological processes and form the basis of living tissues. They have distinct and varied three-dimensional structures. Enzymes, antibodies and haemoglobin are examples of proteins.

Protein synthesis

When individual amino acids are joined together in a specific sequence to form a protein.

Proteome

All of the proteins synthesised by an individual cell or organism at one particular point in time.

Proteomics

The study of the proteome (all the proteins synthesised in a particular cell or organism at a particular point in time).

Protist

A large and diverse kingdom of organisms that are mostly unicellular (such as diatoms and protozoans like the amoeba) although some can be colonial and others are multicellular (like kelp).

Prototype

A model use to test how well something works.

Protozoa

Single-celled organisms that are considered to be animal-like because they get their energy from ingested food.

Pseudogenes

Genes that code for a protein, but are no longer functional.

Pūkeko

A New Zealand swamp hen (Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus) related to the Australasian purple swamp hen.

Pure-breeding

When mated with their own kind, all the offspring resemble their parents.

Return to top