The fast development of new research fields, such as genetic engineering or synthetic biology, is often met with public concerns. There are many factors at play that determine how laypeople perceive new technologies and a better understanding of these can help to inform debate. We have conducted a survey to gauge public opinion on genetic engineering and biotechnology as part of a special exhibition at the CosmoCaixa Museum in Barcelona, Spain. The large sample size of 38,113 respondents allowed us to assess the effect of age, gender or education on the perception of three related terms: “biotechnology”, “genetic engineering” and “synthetic biology”. In addition, by randomly associating these terms with the image of either a male or a female scientist, we looked at the effect of gender on people’s perception of these technologies.

Two main conclusions were reached: the terms “biotechnology” and “genetic engineering” were preferred to “synthetic biology”; and the terms associated with an image of a female scientist were better rated compared to the same terms associated with a male researcher. These results show an interesting gender dimension of public perception of new technologies. Read more in the manuscript published in EMBO Reports: