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Public sees promise of synthetic biology, but wary

Public sees promise of synthetic biology, but wary

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Synthetic biology, the design and construction of new biological parts and systems, has the public's support, but many say that risks need to be evaluated, according to a survey.

Synthetic biology, the design and construction of new biological parts and systems, has the public's support, but many say that risks need to be evaluated, according to a survey.

The survey, conducted by the Hart Research Associates and the Synthetic Biology Project, polled 1,000 adults on synthetic biology, a market expected to be about $4.5 billion by 2015.

Two-thirds of Americans say that synthetic biology should proceed, but with more research to determine the risks and implications of producing biological systems.

A third of the public supports a ban on synthetic biology until the risks are understanding. Half of those surveyed want more federal regulation. Increasingly, U.S. adults know more about synthetic biology and nanotechnology.

Here's how Hart Research described synthetic biology to respondents:

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.

The potential BENEFITS of synthetic biology include developing new microorganisms to treat disease, including cancer, more effectively and to create new and less expensive medications. It also could be used to make new organisms that could provide cheaper and cleaner sources of energy than today's oil-based fuels, and to detect and break down environmental pollutants in the soil, air, and water. While the potential RISKS of synthetic biology are not known, there are concerns that man-made organisms might behave in unexpected and possibly harmful ways and that they could cause harm to the environment. There also are concerns that, if these organisms fall into the wrong hands, they could be used as weapons. Additionally, the ability to create artificial life has raised moral and ethical questions about how life is defined.

With that backdrop, Americans gave the following responses:

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Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure