WASHINGTON -- According to a Louis Harris poll releasedtoday, a random sampling of American adults believe (57-34percent) that the risks of genetic engineering outweigh thebenefits.

Besides attitudes toward genetic engineering, respondents wereasked questions concerning the portrayal of geneticengineering in the movie Jurassic Park and whether the movieshould be seen by young children.

"A 60-36 percent majority of all adults believe that it is verylikely or somewhat likely that animals, plants or bacteria whichare produced by genetic engineering will pose a serious threatto human life or the environment," wrote Humphrey Taylor,president and chief executive officer of Louis Harris andAssociates Inc.

Increased education, however, correlates with reduced fear ofgenetic engineering, according to the poll. For example, while55 percent of those with post-graduate education believe thatgenetic engineering poses little or no threat to people and theenvironment, 65 percent of high school graduates said thatsuch treats were "very" or "somewhat" likely.

By a modest plurality -- 56 percent of all adults and 54 percentof those who had seen the movie or read the book -- peopledoubt that scientists could clone dinosaurs, plants or animalsfrom ancient DNA, Taylor reported.

Interestingly, of those who had seen Jurassic Park or who hadread the book, the plurality of those who believe risksoutweigh benefits was tiny: 49-47 percent. Daniel Kevles, ahistorian of science in the division of humanities and socialscience at the California Institute of Technology agreed thatself-selection among those people might account for thisseemingly contradictory result.

Kevles, who is co-editor with LeRoy Hood of The Code of Codes:Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project, calledthe poll misleading. "People have a kind of intuitive response,particularly if (questions are) phrased in the context of JurassicPark and the publicity surrounding it," he said. "But if you askthem specifically, 'Do you support genetic engineering to curecystic fibrosis or to accomplish some particular medicalpurpose?' they would very likely respond favorably."

In fact, in other polls, "a surprisingly large number of peoplehave said they supported the use of germ line engineering tocure disease," Kevles told BioWorld.

A more interesting test of the public's reaction to geneticengineering, Kevles added, will be market response to CalgeneFresh's Flavr Savr tomato.

"If it does have the same flavor as a backyard tomato, I thinkpeople will buy it," he said. This "will be a much moresignificant test than a poll, and I will be very interested to seewhat the results are."

The Harris organization telephone-polled 1,253 adultsnationally in late June.

-- David C. Holzman Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.