Views on synthetic biology

22 September 2010

The UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Genomics Forum has released findings from a small engagement exercise to explore public views on synthetic biology. 82 young adults (18-30) were questioned about their views, but they were not really a very representative public, being mostly students in science or related disciplines such as public health. Unsurprisingly therefore, most were broadly in favour of synthetic biology, subject to careful regulation and control.
The most popular applications were to create biofuels and pharmaceutical products; the least popular, creation of synthetic viruses for research into pandemic flu and modification of crop plants to enhance food production. 

The value of such a small-scale exercise is correspondingly very limited, especially compared with major consultations (see previous news), but interesting nevertheless. Even relatively-well informed participants clearly have concerns about the potential risks of synthetic biology, albeit set against a broadly supportive view of the area in general, lending weight to the need to ensure that these concerns are properly addressed. If scientifically literate people are worried, then the wider public probably are too, something policy-makers must continue to bear in mind.

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