, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 309–325 | Cite as

An Update of Public Perceptions of Synthetic Biology: Still Undecided?

  • Mirko AncillottiEmail author
  • Virgil Rerimassie
  • Stefanie B. Seitz
  • Walburg Steurer
Original Paper


The discourse on the fundamental issues raised by synthetic biology, such as biosafety and biosecurity, intellectual property, environmental consequences and ethical and societal implications, is still open and controversial. This, coupled with the potential and risks the field holds, makes it one of the hottest topics in technology assessment today. How a new (bio)technology is perceived by the public influences the manner in which its products and applications will be received. Therefore, it is important to learn how people perceive synthetic biology. This work gathers, integrates and discusses the results of three studies of public perceptions of synthetic biology: (1) an analysis of existing research on how media portray synthetic biology across 13 European countries and in the USA, (2) the Meeting of Young Minds, a public debate between prospective politicians and synthetic biologists in the Netherlands and (3) the experiences of citizen panels and focus groups in Austria, the UK and the USA. The results show that the media are generally positive in their reports on synthetic biology, rather unbalanced in their view of potential benefits (emphasized) and risks (downplayed), and also heavily influenced by the sources of the stories, namely scientists and stakeholders. Among the prospective Dutch politicians, there were positive expectations as well as very negative ones. Some of these positions are also shared by participants in public dialogue experiments, such as not only the demand for information, transparency and regulation but also a sense of resignation and ineluctability of scientific and technological progress.


Synthetic biology Public perception Technology assessment Media Public engagement 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mirko Ancillotti
    • 1
    Email author
  • Virgil Rerimassie
    • 2
  • Stefanie B. Seitz
    • 3
  • Walburg Steurer
    • 4
  1. 1.Centre for Research Ethics & BioethicsUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Department of Technology AssessmentRathenau InstituutDen HaagThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Karlsruhe Institute for TechnologyInstitute for Technology Assessment and Systems AnalysisKarlsruheGermany
  4. 4.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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