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Social Dimensions of Synthetic Biology in the Agrifood Sector: The Perspective of Chinese and EU Scientists

Lookup NU author(s): Shan Jin, Dr Beth ClarkORCiD, Dr Sharron Kuznesof, Professor Lynn FrewerORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Purpose: Scientists’ perceptions of societal needs and priorities will shape the innovation trajectories of synthetic biology (SB). In turn, these will be shaped by the funding and regulatory environments in which their research is conducted. This study intends to investigate scientists’ perspectives on co-innovation with the public regarding the implementation of pathways associated with SB including its agrifood applications. Design/methodology/approach: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with Chinese and EU scientists (N=9 and 13, respectively). Six prominent themes emerged from the interviews using the thematic analysis method. Findings: Both Chinese and EU scientists regarded SB as being high-benefit, low-risk and ethically acceptable, and predicted its rejection by the general public and attributed this to the public’s knowledge deficit and irrationality. They endorsed the deficit model of science communication, independent of greater emphasis on responsible research and innovation (RRI) in EU research projects. The findings raised concerns that public fears might intensify once they have learned about scientists’ biased risk perceptions of SB; this calls for better involvement of broader stakeholders. Research limitations/implications: As the sample size is relatively small, the generalisation of research findings needs to be cautious. However, we believe the findings have provided some insights that support increasingly RRI associated with SB. Originality/value: This study has presented scientists’ misunderstandings of societal responses to SB and science communication. It has also provided information to understand how SB-related issues and agenda can be better shaped in future.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jin S, Clark B, Li W, Kuznesof S, Frewer LJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: British Food Journal

Year: 2021

Volume: 123

Issue: 12

Pages: 4135-4154

Online publication date: 25/05/2021

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

Date deposited: 06/05/2021

ISSN (print): 0007-070X

ISSN (electronic): 1758-4108

Publisher: Emerald Publishing Limited


DOI: 10.1108/BFJ-12-2020-1142


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