What does the public (US) know about nanotech and synthetic biology?

I listened to the live webcast this am from the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) which featured the results of a poll and focus group research on awareness of nanotechnology and of synthetic biology. Two speakers from Peter D. Hart Research Associates and David Rejeski, PEN’s executive director.  presented the results from a national survey of 1003 adults conducted from August 25 – 28, 2008. According to the results 75% of adults know little or nothing about nanotechnology with 89% for synthetic biology.

Before receiving notices about the webcast I hadn’t heard of synthetic biology either although I have come across similar research (e.g. my July 8 and 9, 2008 postings ‘Nano, proteins, and Dr. Hongbin Li’).

The research pollsters defined synthetic biology this way, “Synthetic biology is the use of advanced science and engineering to make or redesign living organisms, such as bacteria, so that they can carry out specific functions. Synthetic biology involves making new genetic code, also known as DNA, that does not already exist in nature.”

They also ran clips from focus group work where discussions centered on synthetic biology. Unfortunately, the quality wasn’t great so I didn’t catch much from the clips.

My favourite question was the one about the wording for the description of synthetic biology. You’ll notice that they used the words “make or redesign living organisms” as they told the audience they’d purposefully steered away from the word “create” or any other words which might set people off.

I don’t believe they’ve posted the webcast yet but you can get a copy of the powerpoint presentation from here and, likely, the webcast in a few days.

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