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

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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