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Author: sonjal | Image: sonjal

“New Products, Old Logics? A Q Method Study on Public Perceptions of Gene Editing and Gene Drives for Agriculture”

Presented by Sara Nawaz. Research in collaboration with Dr. Terre Satterfield and Rapichan Phurisamban.

Longstanding controversies regarding genetically modified organisms have led proponents of gene-editing and gene-drive technologies to distinguish these as new and unique methods for the transition to a more climate-smart and ethical agricultural future. Applications of these technologies differ from genetically modified organisms in the specific techniques used, traits introduced, organisms modified, and scale of the modifications, among other possibilities. Yet, little empirical work examines whether people attend to these new technological possibilities as markedly different from conventional GM; whether they are distinguished from each other (gene-editing vs. gene-drive) or whether the purpose (e.g., climate-smart) of the application is more important that the technologies themselves. This study employs Q methodology, a hybrid quantitative-qualitative approach useful when studying polarizing topics, to outline the key patterns around how people perceive four distinct applications of gene editing and drive applications. We find—contrary to proponents’ arguments—that participants are less focused on the technological specifics of the applications, and more on whether they perceive these applications to support or undermine conventional agricultural practices. We also find that the particular context of each individual application influences overall support or opposition, suggesting the need for future studies on gene editing and drives to carefully consider these contexts in their methods.


Sara is a PhD Candidate and interdisciplinary social scientist at IRES, supervised by Dr. Terre Satterfield. Broadly, she is interested in how a growing wave of genomics-based technologies (including gene editing, synthetic biology, and gene drives) are challenging our understandings of nature and reshaping approaches to food security and biodiversity management. Her PhD research uses a mix of quantitative survey methods, interviews, and ethnographic approaches.
Sara has also worked as a research assistant at the World Resources Institute. and as a consultant on social impact assessments, ecosystem service valuations, and natural resource damage assessments at Environmental Resources Management. She has a B.A. in economics from Swarthmore College and an M.Phil. from the University of Oxford in Development Studies. In her free time she rock climbs as much as possible.

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