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Harthorn Group

What do Americans think about ProteoCell?

Led by anthropologist Dr. Barbara Herr Harthorn at UC Santa Barbara with international collaborators Dr. Terre Satterfield and Dr. Milind Kandlikar at the University of British Columbia, the Harthorn Group studies expert and public risk and benefit perceptions of emerging technologies as aspects of responsible research and innovation. Their ProteoCell project focuses on US public risk and benefit perceptions of bottom-up synthetic biology, synthetic cells, and the ProteoCell.


The Harthorn Group is engaged in a multipronged approach to studying attitudes toward synthetic biology. They conducted individual interviews with scientists and lay citizens on these topics, and they are currently examining how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) engage with synthetic biology. The findings from these studies will inform the construction of a nationally representative survey. The survey will help address if and how everyday people draw a line between “what is life?”, “what is non-living material?” and how they make sense of synthetic biology that combines elements of both living and non-living material. They also want to understand whether initial perceptions of these technologies are open and responsive to new information or are comparatively closed and heavily influenced by people’s pre-existing beliefs about other science and technologies such as GMOs or stem cell research.


The findings from these studies will allow scientists and other stakeholders to better understand the nature of concerns about bottom-up synthetic biology, synthetic cells, and ProteoCell and contribute to their responsible and ethical development.



Barbara Herr Harthorn,
UC Santa Barbara
Milind Kandlikar,
University of British Columbia
Terre Satterfield,
University of British Columbia
Jason Budge,
UC Santa Barbara
Maya Szafraniec,
UC Santa Barbara

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