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Science Ticker

Science Ticker

Americans support genetically engineering animals for people’s health

But survey respondents weren’t OK with tweaking animal genes for looks and convenience

glowing aquarium fish

FISHY WORK In a poll of American’s attitudes toward genetically tweaking animals, three out of four respondents said introducing genes to make aquarium fish like these glow was “taking technology too far.”

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Scientists have the power to genetically engineer many types of animals. Most Americans think it’s OK to alter or insert genes in animals and insects — provided it’s done in the interest of human health, according to a poll released August 16 from the Pew Research Center. The findings are similar to those from an earlier Pew survey, which found that a majority of Americans are fine with tweaking a baby’s genes, but only if it is to prevent disease.

In the new survey, a majority of respondents support engineering animals for the benefit of human health. For instance, 70 percent approve of preventing the spread of disease by reducing mosquitoes’ fertility (SN Online: 8/5/16), and 57 percent are on board with engineering animals to be organ donors for humans (SN: 11/2/17, p. 15). But people are not as comfortable with genetically manipulating animals for cosmetic or convenience reasons. A majority of respondents — 55 percent — object to genetically tweaking animal to produce more nutritious meat, saying that crosses a line.

The results, based on a survey of 2,537 U.S. adults from April 23 to May 6, reveal the mixed feelings people have about this emerging biotechnology.

Harvesting organs

Of the 41 percent opposed to genetically engineering animals to grow organs or tissue for human transplant, 21 percent said they worried about harm to the animals. Only 16 percent said they were worried about potential human health risks.

Extinct means extinct

Bringing species back from extinction didn’t sit well with 67 percent of respondents, who balked at the idea of altering a living species to revive one no longer in existence (SN: 10/28/17, p. 28). Of that group,18 percent said species are extinct for a reason; 23 percent said it messes with nature or God’s plan; and 14 percent said it’s a waste of resources. Only 4 percent said they were afraid it would create a “Jurassic Park scenario,” in which the de-extinct animals would run amok and kill people.

No to the glow

Engineering aquarium fish to make them glow got the thumbs down from 77 percent of respondents, who gave a variety of reasons: 48 percent of that group said it was a waste of resources, including 23 percent who said it offered no benefit to people or the fish and 13 percent who called it “frivolous.” Only 2 percent worried about how the fish could affect ecosystems if they were released into the wild.

Messing with mosquitoes

Though a majority supported engineering mosquitoes to improve public health, 29 percent disapproved. Of those, 23 percent worried about potential effects on other species, 23 percent were concerned about upsetting nature’s balance and 18 percent mentioned unintended consequences. Only 2 percent expressed worry about making mosquitoes extinct.


The Parker Solar Probe has launched and is on its way to explore the sun

By Lisa Grossman 8:16am, August 12, 2018
The Parker Solar Probe just took off to become the first spacecraft to visit the sun.
Health,, Animals,, Microbes

Rat lungworm disease is popping up in the mainland United States

By Leah Rosenbaum 9:00am, August 3, 2018
A disease caused by a parasite endemic to Asia sickened at least 12 people in eight states in the continental United States from 2011 to 2017.

A new Ebola species has been found in bats in Sierra Leone

By Leah Rosenbaum 5:42pm, July 27, 2018
A sixth species of Ebola has been found, but we don’t know if it can cause disease in humans.
Health,, Neuroscience

Publicity over a memory test Trump took could skew its results

By Leah Rosenbaum 11:00am, July 16, 2018
Many media outlets reporting on President Trump’s cognitive assessment test could make it harder for doctors to use the exam to spot dementia.
Science & Society

Most Americans think funding science pays off

By Emily DeMarco 3:18pm, July 5, 2018
About 80 percent of U.S. adults say that federal spending on scientific and medical research provides value in the long run, a new survey finds.
Genetics,, Anthropology,, Animals

North America’s earliest dogs came from Siberia

By Bruce Bower 2:12pm, July 5, 2018
North America’s first dogs have few descendants alive today, a study of ancient DNA suggests.
Astronomy,, Planetary Science,, Technology

Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft arrives at the asteroid Ryugu

By Maria Temming 2:58pm, June 27, 2018
The Hayabusa2 spacecraft says “hello” to near-Earth asteroid Ryugu.

‘Oumuamua may be a comet, not an asteroid

By Emily Conover 1:00pm, June 27, 2018
The solar system’s first known interstellar visitor doesn’t appear to be the asteroid that scientists thought it was.
Neuroscience,, Animals

How domestication changed rabbits’ brains

By Tina Hesman Saey 3:00pm, June 25, 2018
The fear centers of the brain were altered as humans tamed rabbits.
Neuroscience,, Psychology,, Science & Society

Splitting families may end, but migrant kids’ trauma needs to be studied

By Laura Sanders 5:39pm, June 20, 2018
The long-term effects of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border need to be studied, scientists say.
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