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Synthetic Biology Remains A Mystery

National survey finds three out of four adults have heard little or nothing about the emerging technology

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Despite advancements in the field of synthetic biology, three out of four adults surveyed in a national poll released today have heard "just a little" or "nothing at all" about the emerging technology, a level of awareness that has changed little since 2010.   

The national poll of more than 800 U.S. adults conducted by Hart Research Associates and the Synthetic Biology Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars finds that there has only been a minor shift in public awareness of synthetic biology, an area of research focused on the design and construction of new biological parts and devices, or re-design of existing biological systems.

"Given these low levels of awareness about synthetic biology, attitudes about the technology are still largely unformed," said David Rejeski, director of the Synthetic Biology Project. "The information people receive about the science and its applications will be critical to how the public feels about this technology going forward."

As the public learns more about synthetic biology, there is greater movement toward concern about risk than optimism about benefits, the poll finds. After hearing some basic information about synthetic biology, 33 percent of adults express greater concern about risks from the technology, while 24 percent express more optimism about its benefits.

"This survey reveals the American public's nuanced and varied impressions of synthetic biology depending on the information provided and the application in question," said Abigail Davenport, a partner with Hart Research. "While the majority would like to see the science proceed, there are several findings that highlight the public's call for caution in moving ahead."

The public has divided opinions on the future of synthetic biology and the role of government regulation. While 61 percent think the science should move forward, one-third of respondents favor a ban "on synthetic biology research until we better understand its implications and risks."

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