perception of risk, and not necessarily the scientific basis for risk, that will be preeminent in determining acceptability of genetically engineered algae to communities. Concerns over genetically engineered algae and perceptions of risks associated with introducing nonnative species into new geographies will need to be addressed.
While concerns surrounding the use of genetically engineered algae for energy production are likely to be raised as the industry continues to develop, the United States remains one of the most accepting countries in the developed world in terms of the adoption rates of genetically engineered crops (USDA-ERS, 2011). In 2008, U.S. farmers planted more than 32 million acres of Monsanto’s “triple-stack” genetically engineered corn, and it is estimated that this number will increase to approximately 56 million acres by 2015 (Kaskey, 2009).
Nonetheless, social acceptability of gene technology depends on the type of application. In one study, medical applications were perceived to be more beneficial, less hazardous, and more ethical than food applications (Frewer et al., 1995). In a Swiss study, lay people distinguished between acceptability of medical and non-medical applications of gene technology but not among agricultural, nutritional, and industrial applications (Connor and Siegrist, 2011). Further, prevailing concerns over the use of genetically engineered crops in the United States are related to human health and food safety rather than potential ecological risks (Kamaldeen and Powell, 2000). However, concerns about genetically engineered microorganisms in surveys and in the popular press have related more to environmental effects than to health or ethical issues (Hagedorn and Allender-Hagedorn, 1997), and these concerns might be expected to dominate for microalgae. Coproduct markets such as health supplements, food additives, and cosmetics could attract additional scrutiny from consumers. It is unknown whether the U.S. public may be more tolerant of the use of biofuels from genetically engineered algae as an energy source than if the crops were grown for food.
Social acceptability of a new technology also depends on how a decision is framed. For example, Wolfe and Bjornstad (2003) suggested that options regarding the use of genetically engineered organisms for hazardous waste remediation likely would be presented in the context of multiple technology options. It is less likely that stakeholders evaluating the use of genetically engineered algae in their regions would be explicitly weighing the relative benefits and risks of different liquid fuels produced elsewhere.
Social acceptability of gene technology depends on trust (Siegrist, 2000). Whether the public is more willing to accept the use of naturally occurring algal strains than those that have been genetically altered for maximum fuel production might depend on the engagement of managers of the facility, other stakeholders, and the public.
5.8.3 Opportunities for Mitigation
Containment of genetically engineered algae might be desirable as a precaution against unknown effects and societal concerns. Physical containment of released algae will be difficult or impossible. Physical containment solutions, such as those proposed for vascular plants (for example, fences and border plants; Moon et al., 2010), are ineffective against released algae. Containment options might include using species that require saline water in freshwater environments or those that have a nutrient requirement that is not met outside of the photobioreactor or pond. The use of environment-dependent “molecular switches” has been proposed to increase the likelihood of community acceptance of genetically engineered crops (Chapotin and Wolt, 2007). Similarly, some modified traits could reduce fitness in natural environments. For example, reduced light harvesting antennae not only would increase growth in ponds but also would reduce the ability to compete with native algal