A recent survey suggests that Americans are becoming more accepting of the use of genome editing in humans, as well as an increasing support for more public involvement in discussion on the technology.

The survey carried out by researchers from the University of Madison-Wisconsin, the Morgridge Institute for Research, Wisconsin, and Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, aimed to understand the American public’s attitudes toward the technology, and ascertain whether they want to be included in shaping future policy around its use.

The results, published in Science, report that around two-thirds of respondents felt that ‘therapeutic’ genome editing to treat disease in humans was generally acceptable, a clear increase from previous surveys. This included treatments that would correct mutations in both somatic cells and germ cells, such as eggs and sperm. However, support dropped when it came to using genome editing to enhance healthy humans, with only one third of respondents feeling that this was an acceptable use.  

Religious beliefs were a strong influence; those with the beliefs were generally less supportive for both treatment and enhancement purposes than those who classed themselves as not religious. On the other hand, respondents with a higher level of scientific knowledge were more likely to be supportive of genome editing for disease treatment than those with less. Those with high knowledge had strong views both for and against human genome editing for enhancement, with approximately 41% being supportive and a similar percentage being against it, while around half of low-knowledge respondents were neither for nor against this use of genome editing.

Despite a divided opinion, all of the respondents were in agreement that the public should be involved in conversations between scientists and policymakers about the role genome editing will play in society.

Professor Dietram Schufele at the University of Madison-Wisconsin, leader of the research, concluded, “The public may be split along lines of religiosity or knowledge with regard to what they think about the technology and scientific community, but they are united in the idea that this is an issue that requires public involvement.

“Our findings show very nicely that the public is ready for these discussion and that the time to have the discussions is now, before the science is fully ready and while we have time to carefully think through different options regarding how we want to move forward.”