Terms to watch out for

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because, due to

because: as a result of

due to: attributable to, caused by, resulting from

A grammar ‘rule’ is that due to should only be used as an adjective (following the noun), and not as a compound preposition. It should not be used in place of because of.

The colour change was due to a chemical reaction.


Due to a chemical reaction, the solution changed colour.


The solution changed colour due to a chemical reaction.

Use of due to in a sentence is only correct if these words could be replaced by caused by or attributable to. Due to should not be used as a wordy alternative to because.

benzene, benzine

benzene: a single species of hydrocarbon molecule (which, confusingly, was originally called benzine!)

benzine: a mixture of hydrocarbons obtained in the distillation of petrol


billion, trillion (-illion)

The meaning of billion and other large numbers may depend on the country in which they are used or, more probably these days, the age of the writing in which they appear. The original meanings were easy to decipher, following the bi, tri, quad sequence (2, 3, 4, etc) that is found in other words (bilingual, tricycle, quadruped, etc). Thus billion was 2 millions multiplied or 1 000 0002 (1012), trillion meant 1 000 0003 (1018), quadrillion meant 1 000 0004 (1024), and so on. European scientists began to change this by a factor of 10, and Americans followed, so that 1 billion became 1 000 000 000 1000 million, or 109), and the rest of the sequence was similarly changed to 1012 and 1018. Today, 1 billion is taken to mean 1000 million (109), but its meaning may be ambiguous where it is encountered in writing from the past. Some scientists and communicators, especially when their audience is likely to be international, prefer to use the explicit 1 thousand million or 1 million million to make their meaning unambiguous. See also Numbers and units

biodegradable, compostable, recyclable

biodegradable: capable of being decomposed by the action of living organisms, especially bacteria

compostable: made of a material that is suitable for forming compost

recyclable: capable of being treated so that new products can be manufactured from the original material, or made of a material that can be adapted or reconstructed for a second use

bioengineering, biomedical engineering, biotechnology

bioengineering: the combination of biology and engineering to advance medical interventions

biomedical engineering: interchangeable with bioengineering

biotechnology: the use of any living organism to make or change a product

blackwater, greywater, wastewater

blackwater: dark water in water bodies such as rivers and waterholes, resulting from decay of excessive organic matter and consequent sudden depletion of oxygen in the water, OR raw sewage

greywater: domestic wastewater (eg from washing machines or baths); often reused for purposes other than drinking (eg watering gardens), rather than being drained into the sewerage system

wastewater: water that is degraded in quality and originates from various sources, including homes, industries and surface runoff

breed, species

breed (animals): an animal husbandry term for animals of the same species that have been artificially (by humans) selected to have certain characteristics that they pass on to their offspring

species: a taxonomic term for a group of organisms than can naturally reproduce with each other, and produce healthy and reproductively viable offspring

breeding line, germplasm

breeding line: a group of pure-breeding organisms with a unique phenotype or genotype that distinguishes them from other individuals of the same species

germplasm: a collection of genetic resources for an organism. For plants, the germplasm can be a seed, part of the plant (cutting) or seedling. Animal genetic resources include reproductive cells (sperm, eggs), tissue samples, stem cells and embryos. Plant genetic resources may be stored in a seed bank or nursery. Animal or plant genetic resources may be stored in a gene bank or cryobank

bug, germ, microbe, microorganism

bug: specifically, a kind of insect with piercing and sucking mouthparts (family Hemiptera), but ubiquitously used as an inaccurate term for ‘invertebrate’, ‘illness’, ‘microorganism’, ‘computer fault’ and much more. Unless it is being used to describe a hemipteran insect, it should be avoided unless the writing is colloquial and the context makes the meaning clear

germ: another imprecise term used in writing about science, usually to refer to a pathogen (a microorganism that can cause disease). Germ cells are cells that give rise to the gametes of a sexually reproducing organism

microbe and microorganism: synonymous terms that refer to any microscopic organism, either single celled or multicellular, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa and algae. Viruses are sometimes considered to be microorganisms (although it can be argued that viruses are not living organisms). Microbe or microorganism, rather than bug or germ, is the preferred collective term when discussing microscopic agents in the context of health and disease

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