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

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Engineering biology is the application of engineering principles to biological systems to change or create new ones. For example, scaling up and utilising properties of cells and proteins for industry or the development of novel or enhanced versions of enzymes.

The UK Government has declared engineering biology as one of its five critical technologies and in December 2023, the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology announced its National vision for engineering biology, unveiling their priorities for the industry and its role in the future of UK research and innovation.

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

The five key findings of the report are:

  • There is a lack of recent UK engagement on engineering biology. Many sources included in this report are from international studies, and cannot be assumed to be transferable to a UK context.
  • Attitudes to engineering biology are likely to be dependent on the context and peoples’ values, including their levels of trust in science.
  • People are likely to be optimistic about using engineering biology to solve societal challenges, especially when they have a higher level of awareness about engineering biology.
  • People are likely to be concerned about safety, inequitable access (particularly in health applications), misuse, and blurring the boundary between natural and artificial.
  • Policy leaders may have a perception of negative public attitudes to engineering biology because of previous anti-GM (genetic modification) sentiment.

The BSA is part of a consortium of organisations delivering Sciencewise, alongside Involve UK, the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement, in partnership with UK Research and Innovation.

Read other Sciencewise reports by the BSA

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