Objective and hypothesis
Hypothesis 1: The term ‘genetic modification’ influences the opinion of people about the use
of genetic modified organisms to make everyday products.
Method 1: Sending out two versions of the final survey: (A) with the term ‘genetic
modification’ (Dutch: ‘genetische modificatie’), (B) with the term ‘directed design’ (Dutch:
‘organismen door ontwerp’).
Hypothesis 2: Giving motivation about why genetic modification is used in the production
of a product increases acceptance on the use of genetic modification to make these products.
Method 2: Ask questions about the acceptance of the same product in different manners:
- General acceptance (‘Using genetic modification/directed design to..’)
- Personal purchase (‘I would buy … made using genetic modification/directed design’)
- General acceptance + motivation
- Personal purchase + motivation
Hypothesis 3: People have different opinions about the use of genetic modification in
the different branches of biotechnology.
Method 3: Ask similar questions about the use of genetic modification to make every
day products for the following branches of biotechnology:
- Cosmetics and cleaning agents
Survey methods and ethics
Promotion: To get a representative sample of students in Amsterdam we distributed posters
with information about the survey on different campus buildings of the University of
Amsterdam and Amsterdam University College. Besides we used social media (Facebook,
instagram, LinkedIn) and messaging apps (Whatsapp, Messenger). We offered five rewards of 20 euros to motivate the participants.
Language: The survey was available in Dutch and English.
Duration: The survey was open for three weeks from September 28th - October 19th. The survey
took 5 minutes to complete.
Platform: Qualtrics was used to build the survey and to obtain the results. Qualtrics
distributed the A and B variants of the survey in a random manner. The raw data was analysed
Ethics: the survey was composed according to all ethic and privacy regulations of iGEM and
the Netherlands. The survey was approved by the BEthic (Ethics Committee of Beta faculties,
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam). Every participant gave their informed consent. Furthermore we
made a data management plan to handle private information.
Click here for the survey
In total 202 completely filled in the survey between September 28th and October 19th, of
which 146 were students at an educational institution in Amsterdam. Most of the participants
were university students. The age and gender distribution of participants of the A and B
survey was similar. The A survey was filled in by a slightly more international public.
Table 1 gives an overview of the demographics of the participants.
Table 1. Overview of demographics of all participants. All participants were students at an educational institution in Amsterdam.
|Nuimber of participants
Results and discussion
Influence of the term genetic modification
To study the effect of the term genetic modification, we studied the difference in response
frequency between the survey with the term ‘genetic modification’ (A) and the term ‘directed
design’ (B). Although there was not a significant difference between the two groups, we did
see a trend towards a more positive response to the survey where the term ‘genetic
modification’ was used (see Figure 1). Perhaps, the participants in the survey were already
more familiar with the term ‘genetic modification’ than with the term ‘directed design’.
However, this could be an artefact of the small number of subjects or of the fact that the A
survey was filled in by a more international public.
Influence of giving information
Besides the influence of the term genetic modification, our survey asked similar questions in
a slightly different way. The participants were asked about their general acceptance of
producing a product with the use of genetic modification/directed design and if they would
purchase the product both with and without mentioning a specific benefit of using genetic
modification/directed design. When giving motivation for using genetic modification, the
participants gave more positive replies (see Figure 2).
Lastly, the difference in acceptance between the different branches of biotechnology was
studied by applying the question formats mentioned previously to products coming from
different branches of biotechnology (biochemicals, biofuels, medicine, cleaning cosmetics,
agents and food). In general, the acceptance of biochemicals, biofuels, medicine and
cleaning agents is higher than foods and cosmetics (see Figure 3). The participants were
less accepting towards the use of genetic modification to make products directly applied to
the human body. Based on our experience from our webinars (see our Education and Engagement
page) we hypothesize that people are still
afraid for the effects genetic modification can have on the products which they consume,
although more in depth study about the motivation is essential
- The term ‘genetic modification’ might result in a more positive attitude towards acceptance and personal purchase of products made using genetic modifications. However, more study is essential to draw conclusions.
- Giving motivation about why genetic modification is used improves acceptance and willingness to purchase the product
- Acceptance of the use of genetic modification in the production of biochemicals, biofuels, medicine and cleaning agents is higher than foods and cosmetics.
Key takeaways for future iGEM teams
- We encourage future iGEM teams to repeat our survey in a cohort more representative of the general public
- Future iGEM teams should consider giving a short motivation to why genetic modification is used in their project when communicating to the general public.
- We encourage future iGEM teams to organize interviews, discussion sessions and focus groups to explore the difference in the acceptance genetic modification between the different branches of biotechnology
Raw data and Individual graphs of the results upon requests
Mallinson, L., Russell, J., Cameron, D. D., Ton, J., Horton, P., & Barker, M. E. (2018). Why rational argument fails the genetic modification (GM) debate. Food Security, 10(5), 1145–1161
Hanssen, L., Dijkstra, A. M., Sleenhoff, S., Frewer, L. J., & Gutteling, J. M. (2018). Revisiting public debate on Genetic Modification and Genetically Modified Organisms. Explanations for contemporary Dutch public attitudes. Journal of Science Communication, 17(4), 1–20.