The Zavos Organization



April 7, 2001

Americans wary of cloning, unaware of genomics

NEW YORK: While scientists may still debate the ethics of human and animal cloning, the vast majority of Americans are decidedly against it, results of a recent nationwide survey suggest.

Ninety-two per cent of respondents said they would not support the cloning of even a favourite person and 86 per cent said they would not agree to the cloning of a favourite pet.

However, many also said they would support cloning that is done for purely scientific reasons, findings show. Half of the 1,000 individuals surveyed said they would support reproducing human cells in the interest of science and slightly more than 55 per cent said they would support the cloning of animal cells for the same reason.

The survey, Public Awareness in the Age of Genomics, was performed by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History in New York city.

''At the core of the Museum's mission is a deep commitment to improving science literacy on the broadest possible scale,'' museum president Ellen V. Futter said in a statement.

''We have just entered what many scientists are calling 'the century of biology,' characterised by powerful new understandings of genetic identity and biological possibility,'' she added.

Yet these new understandings do not seem to extend to the lay public, many of whom are ignorant of recent advances in genetics and genomics research, the survey findings show.

Less than 30 per cent of respondents said they had ever heard of the Human Genome Project while only 36 per cent said they had been exposed to information about genomics research in the past 3 months.

Upon subsequent questioning, however, and after being given an explanation of the project, 84 per cent of respondents said they believed such work would have a positive impact. Eighty percent further agreed that genomics should receive at least as much funding as space or technology research, but 92 per cent said such research should be ''at least somewhat'' regulated.

This need for regulation seemed to be reinforced by other survey findings.

For example, although nearly 8 in every 10 individuals surveyed approved of using gene replacement therapy to improve an individual's health, more than half said it should be used if it is the best treatment, while nearly 40 per cent disagreed, saying it should be used only as a last resort, in the absence of alternative treatment.

On the question of genetically modified food, 40 per cent of respondents said they had never heard of the concept and 70 per cent said they were unaware of ever having eaten genetically altered food. Nearly half of the survey participants said they were uncomfortable about the idea.

However, genetically altered ingredients, though unlisted on product labels-can be found in hundreds of products in the US. Consequently, nearly 80 per cent of respondents said that it would be impossible to avoid eating genetically modified food.

Survey results were released in April to coincide with the anniversary of James Watson and Francis Crick's discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. (Reuters)



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