Social dimensions of synthetic biology in the agrifood sector: the perspective of Chinese and EU scientists

Shan Jin*, Beth Clark, Wenjing Li, Sharron Kuznesof, Lynn J. Frewer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 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 data based on 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, the authors 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4135-4154
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Food Journal
Issue number12
Early online date25 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • agrifood
  • deficit model
  • risk uncertainty
  • social dimension
  • synthetic biology


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