A new report by the British Science Association (BSA), commissioned by Sciencewise, has been published. The report, the second in a two-part series titled Public perceptions of engineering biology, explores the public view of food applications of this technology.

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Sciencewise is a public engagement programme to inform policies involving science and technology.

'Engineering biology' describes the utilisation of engineering principles within and on biological systems. This leads to novel or augmented biological systems.

When considered in relation to the food industry, this could include the production of fake meat using proteins synthesised from animals or microbes engineered to produce food products through fermentation. The technology could also offer a range of solutions to the wider agri-food sector. For example, it could be used to improve crops and soil health, or control pests and crop diseases.

Engineering biology is one of the UK’s five critical technologies alongside AI, future telecommunications, semiconductors, and quantum technologies.

The report reviews research on the public view of engineering biology from across the world published since 2017.

The four key findings of the report are:

  • Public views on engineering biology are broadly similar to views on genetic modification (GM), and are context- and application-dependent. More research on perceptions of specific applications will be needed to better understand what impacts peoples’ views.
  • Attitudes are generally more positive towards applications that are perceived to address a clear problem such as medical or environmental, rather than in food.
  • People are likely to be concerned about the ‘unnaturalness’ of food created with the use of engineering biology, and to view scientists as ‘creating life’ and ‘playing god’.
  • As the negative perceptions of GM appear to ease, people might be more open to the use of engineering biology in food. This is especially true for young people who are more likely to place higher importance on the sustainability benefits that engineering biology seeks to bring to the agri-food system.

Read part one of the Engineering Biology report series about health

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