A need for better understanding is the major determinant for public perceptions of human gene editing

Tristan McCaughey, David M. Budden, Paul G. Sanfilippo, George E. C. Gooden, Li Fan, Eva Fenwick, Gwyneth Rees, Casimir MacGregor, Lei Si, Christine Chen, Helena Hai Liang, Alice Pébay, Timothy Baldwin, Alex W. Hewitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


The CRISPR/Cas system could provide an efficient and reliable means of editing the human genome and has the potential to revolutionize modern medicine; however, rapid developments are raising complex ethical issues. There has been significant scientific debate regarding the acceptability of some applications of CRISPR/Cas, with leaders in the field highlighting the need for the lay public's views to shape expert discussion. As such, we sought to determine the factors that influence public opinion on gene editing. We created a 17-item online survey translated into 11 languages and advertised worldwide. Topic modeling was used to analyze textual responses to determine what factors influenced respondents' opinions toward human somatic or embryonic gene editing, and how this varied among respondents with differing attitudes and demographic backgrounds. A total of 3,988 free-text responses were analyzed. Respondents had a mean age of 32 (range, 11–90) years, and 37% were female. The most prevalent topics cited were Future Generations, Research, Human Editing, Children, and Health. Respondents who disagreed with gene editing for health-related purposes were more likely to cite the topic Better Understanding than those who agreed to both somatic and embryonic gene editing. Respondents from Western backgrounds more frequently discussed Future Generations, compared with participants from Eastern countries. Religious respondents did not cite the topic Religious Beliefs more frequently than did nonreligious respondents, whereas Christian respondents were more likely to cite the topic Future Generations. Our results suggest that public resistance to human somatic or embryonic gene editing does not stem from an inherent mistrust of genome modification, but rather a desire for greater understanding. Furthermore, we demonstrate that factors influencing public opinion vary greatly amongst demographic groups. It is crucial that the determinants of public attitudes toward CRISPR/Cas be well understood so that the technology does not suffer the negative public sentiment seen with previous genetic biotechnologies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-43
Number of pages8
JournalHuman Gene Therapy
Issue number1
Early online date3 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • CRISPR/Cas
  • public perception
  • text mining
  • gene editing
  • global survey


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