//Public perceptions of engineering biology (food)

Public perceptions of engineering biology (food)

In early 2023, engineering biology was identified by the UK Government as one of five critical technologies. This means that engineering biology has been prioritised as one of the areas where the UK can develop a global competitive advantage and establish governance leadership in regulation, standards, and responsible innovation.

Engineering biology is the application of engineering principles to biological systems. As the natural successor to biotechnology, engineering biology enables the development of new or enhanced biological entities and products, like cells or proteins. It offers innovative solutions across the economy, and by being a low carbon technology, it presents opportunities to solve societal challenges faced in food, health, energy, materials and chemicals.

Despite the Government, industry, and researchers’ interest in the discipline, recent evidence on public attitudes to engineering biology in the UK is relatively scarce. This report outlines what is known about public views and values on engineering biology and identifies key themes which could be further explored through public dialogue.

Public perceptions of engineering biology 

Sciencewise has published a new report — authored by the British Science Association (BSA). The report is the second in a two-part series titled Public perceptions of engineering biology  and explores the public view of food applications of this technology. The first part of the series focused on health applications.

The four key findings of the report are:

  1. Public views on engineering biology are broadly similar to views on genetic modification (GM), and are context- and application-dependent. More research on perceptions of specific applications will be needed to better understand what impacts peoples’ views.
  2. Attitudes are generally more positive towards applications that are perceived to address a clear problem such as medical or environmental, rather than in food.
  3. People are likely to be concerned about the ‘unnaturalness’ of food created with the use of engineering biology, and to view scientists as ‘creating life’ and ‘playing god’.
  4. As the negative perceptions of GM appear to ease, people might be more open to the use of engineering biology in food. This is especially true for young people who are more likely to place higher importance on the sustainability benefits that engineering biology seeks to bring to the agri-food system.



You can find the full report here: Public perceptions of engineering biology – part 2: food.