• Modern biotechnology processes, such as genetic engineering, gene therapy and cloning, among others, have a great impact on society [1]. From the development of therapies in the field of life sciences to the production of new crops in Agriculture, biotechnological innovation has offered the possibility of providing solutions to global concerns, such as fighting hunger and disease. However, in recent years, biotechnology has raised new ethical concerns with the provision to humanity of tools that allow changing life itself through the manipulation of genes contained in the DNA of living organisms [2]. Therefore, this work sought to know the perceptions and attitudes of higher education students towards biotechnology. In this context, a quantitative and descriptive study was developed based on an adapted questionnaire [1] structured into two sections. The first section included sociodemographic variables and the second section comprised questions about the level of knowledge about biotechnology, the interest in this scientific area, the sources of information and the attitudes of the respondent towards some of biotechnology applications. A non-probabilistic sample of 285 Portuguese higher education students was collected during April and May 2023. IBM SPSS Statistics software version 29 was used to analyze the data. Respondents were aged between 18 and 39 years old, with an average of 20.2 years old (SD = 2.053). The majority was female (63.5%) and lived in the North of Portugal, namely in Porto (24.6%), Braga (23.2%) and Bragança (8.8%) districts. The results obtained revealed the existence of a level of knowledge that varied from sufficient to good. Taking into account the level of knowledge about what biotechnology consists of, the result was good (Mean = 73.3; SD = 24.7). With regard to the level of knowledge about generic questions, mostly about genetics, the result was sufficient (Mean = 55.01; SD = 24.8). Interestingly, it was found that the overwhelming majority are well aware of the applications of Biotechnology, especially those relating to health and food, namely, the production of antibiotics (86.7%), the use of microorganisms for the production of bread, wine, beer and yogurt (83.2 %), vitamin production (82.1%) and introduction of human genes into bacteria for the production of drugs or vaccines (80.0%). The most reliable source of information, referred as the most credible, was “researchers and scientists” (84.2%), as opposed to the Government and politicians (12.7%). Among the various possible applications of biotechnology, the production of food from modifiable organisms and the detection and therapy of genetic diseases were those that respondents would approve without a doubt, with 56.5% and 56.1%, respectively. On the other hand, human cloning stands out as being the application that respondents would not approve under any circumstances (59.1%). Finally, the results show that biotechnology is a topic that interests most students (91.6%) mainly because of its positive contributions to improving living conditions (88.1%). In this context, this research on students' perceptions is useful as it allows understanding some of the challenges encountered for the real acceptance and incorporation of biotechnology in society. Furthermore, it was possible to identify gaps in students' knowledge, which can and should be incorporated into the teaching of Portuguese higher education institutions.
  • The authors are grateful to the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT, Portugal) for financial support through national funds FCT/MCTES (PIDDAC) to CIMO (UIDB/00690/2020 and UIDP/00690/ 2020) and SusTEC (LA/P/0007/2020).

publication date

  • November 1, 2023