How Do The Public Feel About Genomics?

Genomics is an issue I’ve touched on a growing amount on this blog in the past few years, both in terms of the data we’re increasingly able to capture, and the insights we can derive from that data.  How do the public feel about the potential for genomics?

That was the question posed by a recent study from the Royal Society, in the UK.  The study reveals that the British public are cautiously optimistic, but there is clear preference for some forms of genetic technology over others.

For instance, whilst the public were generally positive about the prospects of genome editing in human health, they also thought it carried too many risks to be used in tackling global challenges.  Some 83% of people thought it would be invaluable in curing previously incurable diseases, whilst 82% were positive about its impact on conditions that already have a treatment available.

“Developments in genetic science are driven by our wish to tackle the many challenges humanity faces, including reducing the burden of human disease. People have told us that they are cautiously optimistic about the potential of the new methods for research and applications, but they are understandably concerned about the risks, and the ethical and social implications,” the Royal Society say.

Broad appeal

Interestingly, the report also highlighted growing acceptance of genetic editing in animals and plants.  For instance, 71% of respondents suggested that genetically modifying mosquitoes to limit the spread of malaria would be a good thing, with a growing number also supportive of genetic engineering of food to increase efficiency.

The public were also broadly supportive of genome editing in plants to produce cheaper medicines, with support also high for modifying crops to make them more nutritious.

Despite this support however, respondents were adamant that robust and effective regulation was required to prevent cross contamination with plants that hadn’t undergone genome editing.  What’s more, there was general support for international cooperation on this regulation, with 81% of people supporting a global regulatory framework.

Suffice to say, it’s a technology that is still at a very early stage, but nonetheless the study provides an interesting snapshot of public attitudes towards it.