Biotechnology is recently focusing on developing innovative and less impacting techniques for the gene transfer into the plants. These emerging tools aim to insert into the plant genome the least quantity of foreign and unnecessary DNA, such as the marker genes for the antibiotic resistance trait. This latter aspect is one of the main concern of the public opinion, as European directive (2001/18 EC) is regulating the use of antibiotic resistance of genetically modified plants. Assuming that these techinques might answer to the demand of safety from the society, they have been variously named as "marker-free", "sustainable", "eco-friendly" or "clean". As for the laboratorial aspect, setting up and implementing such gene transfer strategies require a significant amount of work, i.e. research time and costs.

In this framework, we investigated the point of view of the researchers on these techniques, starting from their perception on possible risks related to exogene transfer to plants in general, and focusing in particular on their opinion about the need to implement and use these new techniques. The final goal of our research was to investigate whether the improvement of a technology such as the gene transfer based on a less impacting strategy may bridge together the needs of the technical requirements with the demand of security coming from the society. Our project put together in a multidisciplinary approach experts in biotechnology, as well as in social sciences, bioethics, and communication. For our survey, that was based on ethnographic observation and interviews to the persons in charge of the laboratories and of the research guidelines, a group of renewed European laboratories involved in grape gene transfer was selected. In our sample, the scientists seemed to be conscious of the fact that public opinion seriously affects institutional priorities and policies with an immediate impact on funding schemes of the research. The results of our analysis proved that the techniques for delivering foreign genes into the plants we investigated represent a paradigmatic case of negotiation between the different actors involved in the use of a technology. Besides, we could analyze the communication processes that are related to a scientific innovation, and define some guidelines of good practices for a better understanding between scientific community and society at large.

Research supported by Trento Autonomous Province, Project EcoGenEtic.Com

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Views of the researchers and claims of the society
Gene transfer into plants as a paradigmatic case study of a crucial communication.

Lucia Martinelli   IASMA Research Center

Giuseppe Pellegrini   Padua University

Giovanna Sonda   Observa

Floriana Marin   IASMA Research Centre

Biotechnology is recently focusing on developing innovative and less impacting techniques for the gene transfer into the plants. These emerging tools aim to insert into the plant genome the least quantity of foreign and unnecessary DNA, such as the marker genes for the antibiotic resistance trait. This latter aspect is one of the main concern of the public opinion, as European directive (2001/18 EC) is regulating the use of antibiotic resistance of genetically modified plants. Assuming that these techinques might answer to the demand of safety from the society, they have been variously named as "marker-free", "sustainable", "eco-friendly" or "clean". As for the laboratorial aspect, setting up and implementing such gene transfer strategies require a significant amount of work, i.e. research time and costs.

In this framework, we investigated the point of view of the researchers on these techniques, starting from their perception on possible risks related to exogene transfer to plants in general, and focusing in particular on their opinion about the need to implement and use these new techniques. The final goal of our research was to investigate whether the improvement of a technology such as the gene transfer based on a less impacting strategy may bridge together the needs of the technical requirements with the demand of security coming from the society. Our project put together in a multidisciplinary approach experts in biotechnology, as well as in social sciences, bioethics, and communication. For our survey, that was based on ethnographic observation and interviews to the persons in charge of the laboratories and of the research guidelines, a group of renewed European laboratories involved in grape gene transfer was selected. In our sample, the scientists seemed to be conscious of the fact that public opinion seriously affects institutional priorities and policies with an immediate impact on funding schemes of the research. The results of our analysis proved that the techniques for delivering foreign genes into the plants we investigated represent a paradigmatic case of negotiation between the different actors involved in the use of a technology. Besides, we could analyze the communication processes that are related to a scientific innovation, and define some guidelines of good practices for a better understanding between scientific community and society at large.

Research supported by Trento Autonomous Province, Project EcoGenEtic.Com

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