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Nanotechnology And Synthetic Biology: Americans Don\'t Know What\'s ... [2008-10-21]

Tag : synthetic

This new insight into limited public awareness of emergingtechnologies comes as a major leadership change is about to takehold in the nation's capital. Public policy experts are concerned,regardless of party, that the federal government is behind thecurve in engaging citizens on the potential benefits and risksposed by technologies that could have a significant impact onsociety.
"Early in the administration of the next president, scientistsare expected to take the next major step toward the creation ofsynthetic forms of life. Yet the results from the first U.S.telephone poll about synthetic biology show that most adults haveheard just a little or nothing at all about it," says PENDirector David Rejeski. The poll findings are contained a reportpublished September 30.
Synthetic biology is the use of advanced science and engineering toconstruct or re-design living organisms–likebacteria–so that they can carry out specific functions. Thisemerging technology is likely to develop rapidly in the comingyears, much as nanotechnology did in the last decade. In the nearfuture the first synthetic biology "blockbuster" drug isanticipated to hit the market—an affordable treatment for the500 million people in the world suffering from malaria.
The poll, which was conducted by the same firm that produces thewell-known NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls, found that abouttwo-thirds of adults say they have heard nothing at all aboutsynthetic biology, and only 2 percent say they have heard "alot" about the new technology. Even with this very low levelof awareness, a solid two-thirds of adults are willing to expressan initial opinion on the potential benefits versus risks tradeoffof synthetic biology.
This survey was informed by two focus groups conducted in August insuburban Baltimore. This is the first time—to the pollsters'knowledge—that synthetic biology has been the subject of arepresentative national telephone survey.
At the same time, the poll found that about half of adults say theyhave heard nothing at all about nanotechnology. About 50 percent ofadults are too unsure about nanotechnology to make an initialjudgment on the possible tradeoffs between benefits and risks. Ofthose people who are willing to make an initial judgment, theythink benefits will outweigh risks by a three to one margin whencompared to those who believe risks will outweigh benefits. Theplurality of respondents, however, believes that risks and benefitswill be about equal.
A major industry forecasting firm determined that last yearnanotech goods in the global marketplace totaled $147 billion.According to the poll, the level of U.S. public awareness aboutnanotechnology has not changed measurably since 2004 when HartResearch conducted the first poll on the topic on behalf of thePEN.
The report is titled "The American Public's Awareness Of AndPerceptions About Potential Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology& Synthetic Biology" and can be requested from Project onEmerging Nanotechnologies.
About Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, see, manipulate andmanufacture things usually between 1 and 100 nanometers. Ananometer is one billionth of a meter; a human hair is roughly100,000 nanometers wide. In 2007, the global market for goodsincorporating nanotechnology totaled $147 billion. Lux Researchprojects that figure will grow to $3.1 trillion by 2015.
About Synthetic Biology
Synthetic biology is the use of advanced science and engineering tomake or re-design living organisms, such as bacteria, so that theycan carry out specific functions. Synthetic biology involves makingnew genetic code, also known as DNA, that does not already exist innature.