Public is relaxed about artificial life, says study
The general public is surprisingly accepting of the idea of creating synthetic life forms in the laboratory – providing the artificial microbes are designed for a good purpose and the motivations of the scientists involved are clearly defined, a study has found.
A Government-funded project to engage the public in a debate over synthetic biology was eclipsed by the announcement on Thursday night that scientists in the United States have created the world's first synthetic life form, a new type of living cell that is entirely programmed by a laboratory-made chromosome.
Craig Venter, the American genome entrepreneur, led the $40m (£28m) study that created the synthetic microbe from a living cell and an artificially-constructed chromosome made from a DNA code stored on a computer.
The new study into public attitudes attempts to create a dialogue between the scientists who hope to carry out similar "synbio" research in the UK and the taxpayers who fund the work. It is being jointly run by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
The £250,000 project began last September and has involved a series of focus groups with 160 carefully-selected members of the public from different parts of the country and representing different social and ethnic groups. Its aim is to establish the sort of public dialogue that was lacking over the debacle about genetically modified (GM) crops, which were overwhelmingly rejected by the public.
"We want a very early debate before the first products of synthetic biology come to the market. This technology is going to be very important and the technology must be explained in a way that the public can understand," said Brian Johnson, an independent consultant who chairs the public dialogue panel.
"Surprisingly, we've not seen wholesale opposition to the creation of artificial life. People are fascinated and genuinely hopeful for what the science can deliver, but they are also genuinely concerned over who governs science and the motivation for doing this type of research," Dr Johnson said.
"They are also deeply concerned about regulation. They believe it needs to be developed and it has to have an international dimension. They would for instance like to ask Craig Venter about his motivation for doing this kind of research and the regulations relating to it," he added.
- 1 BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
- 2 Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
- 3 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 4 The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
Isis propaganda video shows 25 Syrian soldiers executed by teenage militants in Palmyra
Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...
£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...