Americans are becoming more open to human genome editing, survey finds, but concerns remain

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By Jon Cohen

CRISPR, the powerful genome-editing tool, does a molecular tango to cut and modify DNA that is highly nuanced. The same subtlety applies to the public’s views on how best to use genome editing in humans, a new survey of adults in the United States shows.

Earlier surveys of Americans (here and here) have found a reluctance to support human genome editing, with many respondents expressing ethical and other concerns about such intentional tinkering. But the new survey, conducted by social scientists from the University of Wisconsin in Madison (UWM) and Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, found that two-thirds of the 1600 respondents thought genome editing was generally “acceptable.” This held true whether the genome modification was in germline cells, which can be passed on to offspring, or in somatic cells that cannot. But that acceptance was qualified, and colored by religious beliefs and scientific knowledge. There was one thing that almost everyone agreed on, however: They want to be part of the policy discussion about what should and should not be allowed.

The survey, described today in a Policy Forum published by Science, randomly presented people with different vignettes that described genome editing being used in germline or somatic cells to either treat disease or enhance a human with, say, a gene linked to higher IQ or eye color. Although respondents were generally open to the use of editing technologies, acceptance depended strongly on the specific purpose and its impact on future generations. For instance, there was scant support for using genome editing to enhance a germline; just 26% of people found that acceptable and 51% said it was unacceptable. But acceptance jumped to 39% if the enhancement was in somatic cells, and only 35% objected. 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Just have to point out here that the media is hung up on CRISPR. I suggest somebody in the media, as well as other distinguished folks that comment here look into ZFNs, (Zinc Finger Nuclease). I’ve been following a company that is really taking this technology to the next stage. It’s actually more precise than Crispr with less off-target splices.

  2. Hi, savvy!

    As ever hope you are well but this time hope also you are surviving the temporary Idiocracy. If nothing else with so much broken and squandered there may be a chance to put things back better, with stronger institutions safeguarding expertise.

    ZFNs versus CISPR. Is that a cost versus accuracy trade off? And what’s TALENs?

    My interests are in the circular economy mostly though one other iron in the fire is the bulk production of algae. These latter had developed pre-Cambrian nearly all the biochemistry ever used, before wasting energy on bodies, so almost the ideal energy efficient bio-chemical factory.

    The first has long legs and we are building quite sophisticated business models to extract very long term values out of exceptionally specced modular product. You can see a first product at blumelabs though not an exposition of the business models. Each stage must argue for itself.

    We now have a fully open thread here which we can use for any topic one might find on RDdotnet, science and reason…and unreason.

    Oh thats dotcom BTW.

  3. Comrade Rimmer….
    Insanity and then some!

    So you have the 3 gene editing techniques as described. Near as far as I can tell, the company using ZFN technology has been making steady improvements. It is the oldest of the three technologies. Now, it depends on who you talk with as to which is the better technology since it’s such an important and competitive space for many biotechnology companies. This takes a lot of research as to which is a better investment.

    Of course the technology is applicable in many areas, including the humble algae.

    Cheers!

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