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Public attitudes to synthetic biology

An update to the report ‘Public views on synthetic biology (2013), reviewing information on public attitudes available at the time of writing, January 2016.

Executive summary

Since Sciencewise first reviewed evidence on public views of synthetic biology in 2013, one new opinion poll and an analysis of tweets have been published. No new in-depth research has been published.

There is an urgent need for new research into public views on synthetic biology and its applications, as the regulatory and commercial environment is changing, and citizens’ views should be taken into account in this decision-making. Gaps in current knowledge include reaction to commercial applications, in-depth understanding of citizens’ opinions on regulation, and longer-term data on fluctuations in opinion.

Review of the 2013 Sciencewise report and new evidence on public views shows that:

•There is little public awareness and debate on this issue, but dialogue shows that those who are engaged have complex and nuanced views on the technology that add value to policy discussions. Participants in dialogue projects have said they would welcome further engagement on this issue.

•There are ethical concerns around research, and the public have suggested frameworks for scientists to consider the ethical implications of their work, and help earn the public’s trust.

•The public see the potential for exciting applications of this technology to tackle the world’s major challenges.

•They also perceive big risks, if the technology is not properly regulated and monitored. Fears include misuse by industry, bioterrorism and environmental impacts.

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