U.S – In a new study conducted by the Alliance for Science, a positive shift in public sentiment towards gene editing in agriculture has been revealed, with gene editing consistently receiving higher favorability ratings than genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in both traditional and social media.

The study, which analyzed data from five years between January 2018 and December 2022, provides valuable insights for the scientific community and professionals in science communication.

It shows a notable difference in public favorability towards gene editing compared to GMOs, indicating a potential pathway for acceptance of gene editing technologies in the future.

Mark Lynas, the lead author of the study and Communications Strategist and Climate Lead at the Alliance for Science, expressed cautious optimism about the findings.

“Our sentiment analysis shows that favorability is especially positive in social media, with close to 100 percent favorability achieved in numerous monthly values throughout our five years of analysis,” said Lynas.

The study suggests that the relative novelty of gene editing as an issue, compared to the long-standing negative publicity surrounding GMOs, might contribute to the higher favorability ratings for gene editing.

The scientific community’s potential efforts to avoid repeating the challenges faced by GMOs may also play a role.

Surprisingly, the study found that social media coverage of gene editing has been overwhelmingly positive in recent years, even as it reached substantially larger audiences.

This contradicts the common notion that social media tends to be negative and polarizing. The analysis suggests that social media has played a positive role in shaping public sentiment towards this emerging technology.

Hope and caution for the scientific community

While the study reveals a positive trend in public acceptance of gene editing, the authors caution against sustained downward shifts in sentiment, emphasizing the need to monitor changing perceptions over time.

Ongoing communication and engagement with the public are crucial to ensure a better understanding of gene editing technologies and address any potential concerns.

Dr. Sheila Ochugboju, Executive Director of the Alliance for Science, finds the positive coverage of agricultural gene editing in both traditional and social media encouraging.

“These findings suggest that the battle for public opinion is not lost, and the scientific community can find hope in the potential acceptance of gene editing technologies,” she said.

As the field of agricultural biotechnology continues to evolve, understanding public sentiment and effectively communicating the benefits and safety of gene editing will be vital to foster trust and enable the responsible implementation of these technologies in agriculture.

Gene editing technologies

Gene editing technologies, such as CRISPR-Cas9, offer immense potential for improving crop traits, disease resistance, and food production.

Unlike genetically modified organisms, which involve the transfer of DNA sequences between unrelated species, gene editing primarily involves precise alterations within an organism’s own DNA. This distinction may contribute to the more positive public reception of gene editing.

The study’s findings provide valuable insights for policymakers, scientists, and industry professionals engaged in the development and regulation of gene-edited crops.

By understanding public sentiment and perceptions, stakeholders can tailor their communication strategies and engage in meaningful dialogue to address concerns and promote a balanced understanding of the benefits and safety of gene editing.

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