A baseline survey of public attitudes towards synbio

CSIRO’s ‘National Baseline Survey of Attitudes Towards Synthetic Biology’ captures the views of over 8,000 Australians to gain insight into community perspectives on future synthetic biology-based solutions being developed by research teams at CSIRO.

Prior research has shown that public awareness or knowledge of synthetic biology is generally below 50% of the population (Cormick & Mercer, 2017). For example, in Australia in 2017, 43% were aware or had some knowledge of synthetic biology (Cormick & Mercer, 2017), which is similar to the rates observed in the UK, USA and Europe. It is noted that awareness is steadily increasing over time, presumably due to the increasing attention that synthetic biology is receiving in mainstream media.

Research also reveals that attitudes towards synthetic biology are heterogeneous, with many expressing uncertainty/ambivalence and asking for further information (Rejeski, 2013). People seem to be most concerned about the (perceived, uncontrollable and uncertain) consequences for humans and the environment, the potential for misuse, as well as the fundamental issue of whether it is moral to create artificial life (Dragojlovic, 2012; Pauwels, 2013; Pew Research Centre, 2018; Rejeski, 2013). These concerns are even expressed by those who are generally positive in their views towards synthetic biology (Pauwels, 2013).

In Australia, there is no current baseline understanding of public attitudes towards possible synthetic biology technologies. This National Survey was designed and conducted to better understand the public’s attitudes and beliefs towards potential synthetic biology technologies designed to solve national challenges in areas of manufacturing, human health, agriculture and the environment.

Approach: A multidimensional analysis of public attitudes towards seven (7) technological applications of synthetic biology, incorporating risk, values, norms and emotion. Qualitative and quantitative methods include:
– Development of science communication tools (SynBio Storyboards)
– Public focus groups to validate communication tools and refine survey content
– National Baseline Attitudes Survey
– Social psychology/behavioural economics experiment utilising SynBio Storyboards
– Content/thematic analyses of open-ended survey responses

Impact: CSIRO remains a trusted advisor in the gene technology space, promoting responsible science and providing a benchmark for integrative research on transformative technologies. Any future implementation of SynBio technologies is informed with consideration of social and institutional risks, benefits and values.

Carter, L. & Mankad, A. (2021). The Promises and Realities of Integration in Synthetic Biology: A View From Social Science. Frontiers in Bioengineering & Biotechnology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fbioe.2020.622221

Carter, L., Mankad, A., Hobman, E.V. & Porter, N. (2021). Playing God and tampering with nature: Popular labels for real risks in synthetic biology. Transgenic Research. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11248-021-00233-2

Mankad, A., Hobman, E. V. & Carter, L. (2020). Does the head overrule the heart in the support for novel synthetic biology applications? Conservation Biology. https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13637

Mankad, A., Kennedy, U., & Carter, L. (2019). Biological control of pests and a social model of animal welfare. Journal of Environmental Management, 247(November 2018), 313–322. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.06.080

Reporting on the results of the National Baseline Attitudes Survey has been completed. You can access the reports and storyboards via the SynBio FSP News post: Public attitudes towards synthetic biology.