Genetic engineering of animals for medical research: students' views

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School Science Review,June 1999,80(293) 23
Hill,Stanisstreet,O’Sullivan and Boyes Genetic engineering of animals
Genetic engineering of
animals for medical
research: students’ views
Ruaraidh Hill,Martin Stanisstreet,Helen O’Sullivan
and Edward Boyes
Some students think that the use of animals for medical research is wrong;
few object specifically to genetic engineering of animals for such research
ABSTRACT
11–18 year-old students’ views on using animals
in medical research are surveyed.Over half the
students thought that using naturally bred
animals such as rats and mice in medical
research was acceptable,provided no pain was
caused; this view was more prevalent in older
students.When asked whether the use of
animals for medical research was against their
religious beliefs,cruel or unnecessary, the
responses were broadly similar for naturally bred
and genetically engineered animals.Many
thought the use of genetically engineered anim-
als in research would lead to novel discoveries.
This suggests that they have no greater objection
to the use in medical research of genetically
engineered than to naturally bred animals.
Each year about three million experimental procedures
on living animals are performed in Britain.These
experiments serve a variety of purposes: the develop-
ment of medical and veterinary products; safety
evaluation of agricultural,industrial and household
commodities,and food additives; fundamental studies
of the structure and function of organisms; education
and training.Most would agree that many of these pur-
poses,if not the methods of achieving them,are worthy.
Some of the organisations that oppose the use of
animals in research exploit the emotional impact of
pictures of higher mammals such as monkeys,and
people may have the impression that many experiments
are done on cats and dogs (Masood,1997).In reality,
however,about 80 per cent of the procedures are per-
formed on rats,mice or other small laboratory rodents
(Government Statistical Service,1997).Furthermore,
there is a legal requirement to minimise the pain or
distress caused by experimental procedures.Never-
theless,advances beneficial to humankind are being
achieved at the expense of non-human animals.
This ethical quandary is not new:animals have
been used in research and education since early times.
Over recent decades,however, the dilemma has
assumed a higher public profile.Some groups opposed
to the use of animals have become increasingly vocal,
even active.Organisations that defend the use of
animals in research have responded by being more
willing to discuss and stand up for their viewpoint.
More recently,new biotechnologies such as genetic
engineering have been applied to producing animals
for research purposes.Although the total number of
procedures with animals in the United Kingdom has
been reduced over the last 20 years, the number of
those involving animals with genetic defects,or
animals that have been genetically manipulated,has
risenin recent years.In1996, some 300 000 procedures
(11 per cent of the total) involved genetically mani-
pulated animals (Government Statistical Service,
1997).Some of the animals produced by these
techniques can appear as unnatural,perhaps even
grotesque.For example,laboratory mice may be
genetically engineered to become obese (Lowell et al.,
1993; Zhang et al.,1994),hairless and ‘wrinkled’
(Jones et al.,1993),or even to contain genes for
luminescent proteins (Ikawa et al.,1995).While
serving useful research purposes, these might give the
impression that genetic engineering inevitably results
in the production of bizarre animals,and thus increase
opposition to animal experimentation,or indeed to
biotechnology in general.Alternatively, those who
think that animal experimentation is justified might
feel that genetic engineering of animals for research
is no worse than procedures already performed.
Genetic engineering of animals Hill,Stanisstreet,O’Sullivan and Boyes
24 School Science Review,June 1999,80(293)
Public opinion,informed or not,is one of the
factors that may influence the future application of
genetic technologies and perhaps even legislation
(ACOST,1990; ‘Opinion’,1997).It is important,
therefore, to have some appreciation of the views of
the public in this area.The aim of this study was to
explore the attitudes of young people, the next
generation of voters, to the use of genetically
engineered animals in medical research.In order to
gain insight into the possible development of their
ideas, students in four age groups were studied.
Method
Eight community comprehensive,non-religious,
mixed-sex schools and twelve further education
colleges in north-west England took part in the study.
Aclosed-form‘questionnaire’ was used,consisting
of a series of statements and questions about the use
of animals in medical research (see box,page 30).It
was decided to specify the type of research because
students draw a mental balance between the accept-
ability of procedures and the purposes for which they
are undertaken (Stanisstreet et al.,1993a,b); medical
research is seen as a relatively worthy purpose (Foster
et al.,1994).The questionnaire started with a short
introductory paragraph that included a simple
expansion of the termgenetic engineering (‘changing
plants and animals by altering their genes’).In the
headings to the sections and in the individual state-
ments,animals were distinguished as being naturally
bred (‘ordinary’) or produced by genetic engineering.
The term ‘animals’ was further defined as ‘like rats
and mice’ to guide students’ thinking towards animals
that are associated withexperimentation.Students were
asked to indicate their responses by ticking boxes.
The coversheet of the questionnaire assured
students that it was anonymous and ‘not a test’.The
response procedure was explained,and exemplified
using information about a popular television pro-
gramme.Students were asked to record their gender.
In order to encourage students to take the question-
naire seriously,it was administered during normal
timetable periods and under the supervision of a
member of teaching staff who knew the students.The
questionnaire was piloted with 155 11–16-year-olds,
and found to be satisfactory in that pupils found no
difficulty in completing it.
Results and discussion
778 students completed the questionnaires:47% were
females; 15% were in English National Curriculum
year 7 (age 11–12 years); 18% were in year 9 (age 13–
14 years); 18% were in year 11 (age 15–16 years);
and 49% were fromcolleges of further education (age
16–18 years).For statistical analysis of all items other
than the last two, the ‘strongly agree’ responses were
pooled with the ‘agree’ responses,and the ‘disagree’
responses were combined with the ‘strongly disagree’
responses.In the discussion below, when a single
percentage is given it is the overall percentage of
students who affirmed (strongly or otherwise) the
statement.Where there was a clear, statistically
significant difference between the responses of
students in different year groups (p < 0.01,Chi-square
test) and a trend, separate percentages are given for
students in years 7,9,11 and the college students.
Perceived knowledge and feelings about genetic
engineering (Figure 1)
There was a tendency for more of the older students
to think that they knew ‘a lot’ or at least ‘something’
about genetic engineering (item19: 25%, 29%, 32%,
43%).In contrast, there was no trend in how concerned
students of different ages were about genetic
engineering (item 18), with 30% being ‘not at all
worried’,57%‘a bit worried’ and 12%‘very worried’.
Figure 1 Students’ views about genetic engineering in general (n = 778).
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
nothing at all
something
a lot
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
not at all
worried
very worried
How much do you know?
Percentage
Percentage
How do you feel?
a little
a bit worried
Age groupAge group
School Science Review,June 1999,80(293) 25
Hill,Stanisstreet,O’Sullivan and Boyes Genetic engineering of animals
Use of animals in medical research (Figure 2)
Overall,about two-fifths of the students (42%) thought
that using animals for medical research was wrong,
although this proportion was lower in the older
students,especially the college students (item 3:58%,
53%,52%, 29%).A similar proportion (42%) thought
that it was wrong to produce animals by genetic
engineering for medical research (item9), suggesting
that students may not find the process of genetic
engineering of animals for research any more or less
objectionable than such research in general.The
responses to these two items,asking whether
experimentation with ‘ordinary’ animals was wrong
and whether the production of animals for medical
research by genetic engineering was wrong, were then
compared.This showed that 8% of the students
accepted experimentation with ordinary animals but
objected to the production of animals by genetic
engineering.There was an indication that this
combination of views increased with age.
Figure 2 Views about the use of ‘ordinary’ and genetically engineered animals in medical research (n = 778).
Ordinary animals Genetically engineered animals
Age group Age group
Unnecessary Unnecessary
neither agree nor
disagree
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
strongly disagree
agree
strongly agree
disagree
Percentage
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
strongly disagree
agree
strongly agree
disagree
neither agree nor
disagree
Percentage
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
strongly disagree
disagree
agree
strongly agree
strongly disagree
disagree
agree
strongly agree
Percentage
neither agree nor
disagree
neither agree nor
disagree
Against religious beliefs Against religious beliefs
Percentage
strongly disagree
disagree
agree
strongly agree
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
Wrong to use
Percentage
Percentage
Wrong to produce
strongly disagree
disagree
agree
strongly agree
neither agree nor
disagree
neither agree nor
disagree
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
Cruel Cruel
strongly disagree
agree
strongly agree
strongly disagree
agree
strongly agree
disagree
disagree
Percentage
neither agree nor
disagree
neither agree nor
disagree
Percentage
Genetic engineering of animals Hill,Stanisstreet,O’Sullivan and Boyes
26 School Science Review,June 1999,80(293)
Overall,about a quarter of the students (23%)
claimed a religious basis for their views about the use
of ordinary animals,although the proportion who
professed a religious foundation to their objections to
experimentation with these animals declined with age
(item5: 36%, 22%, 28%,19%).Whether this is due to
a reduction in religiosity or a change in the application
of religious views is not clear.A similar percentage
overall (21%) claimed a religious reason for their
objections to the production of animals by genetic
engineering for research (item11),although there was
no clear trend,increase or decrease,across the age
groups.Cross-tabulation of responses to these two
items showed that very few students (3%) had religious
objections to genetic engineering of animals without
also having objections to experimentation in general.
More students,about half, thought that experimentation
usingordinary animals for medical research was ‘cruel’
(52%),although fewer older students affirmed this idea
(item 6: 62%,59%,56%,45%).These figures suggest
that at least some students,especially in the oldest
group, think that procedures can be ‘cruel’ without
being wrong.A similar proportion (47%) viewed
production of animals by genetic engineering as cruel,
although here too the percentage with this view
declined in older students (item 14:58%,52%,50%,
41%).Only 4%of the students thought that production
of genetically engineered animals was cruel but that
experimentation on ordinary animals was not.A similar
proportion (3%) even thought the reverse, that ordinary
animal experimentation was cruel whereas genetic
engineering was not.
About two-fifths of the students (39%),although
fewer of the college students (54%,52%,50%, 26%),
thought that medical research with ordinary animals
was unnecessary (item 2).A similar proportion (38%),
and again fewer older students (53%,43%,42%, 31%),
thought that there was no need to produce genetically
engineered animals for medical research (item 15).
Some 8%of the students thought that while ordinary
animal experimentation was necessary,genetic
engineering of animals for medical research was not.
Significance of pain (Figure 3)
One of the major reasons for objections to research
using animal experimentation is likely to be that it is
thought to cause pain or distress to the animals.About
half of the students overall (55%),but more of the older
students (34%,40%,45%, 70%), thought that using
‘ordinary’ animals for medical research was acceptable
provided the animals are not caused pain (item1).Far
fewer (13%) thought that such research was acceptable
Figure 3 Students’ views about pain caused to
‘ordinary’ and genetically engineered animals in
medical research (n = 778).
even if the animals were caused pain (item4).Afifth
of the students (19%) thought that genetically
engineeredanimals wouldbe inconstant pain,although
this applied less to the college students (item17: 28%,
24%, 26%,12%).This raises the possibility that some
students might be basing their objections to genetic
engineering on the notion that genetically engineered
laboratory animals would suffer continuously.
Possible dangers and benefits of the use of
genetically engineered animals (Figure 4)
Some of the questionnaire items about genetically
engineeredanimals didnot have equivalent items about
‘ordinary’ animals; these items explored the ethics and
possible dangers and benefits of using genetically
Ordinary animals
Age group
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
In constant pain
strongly disagree
neither agree nor
disagree
disagree
Percentage
agree
strongly agree
Genetically engineered animals
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
strongly disagree
disagree
All right even if in pain
Percentage
agree
strongly agree
neither agree nor
disagree
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
All right if no pain
Percentage
strongly disagree
disagree
agree
strongly agree
neither agree nor
disagree
School Science Review,June 1999,80(293) 27
Hill,Stanisstreet,O’Sullivan and Boyes Genetic engineering of animals
engineered animals.Just over half of the students
(53%) thought that production of animals by genetic
engineering was unnatural (item10),although slightly
fewer, under half (45%), thought that humans did not
have the right to produce animals by genetic
engineering for medical research (item 7).Only a fifth
of the students (22%),and fewer of the older students
(41%, 25%, 24%,14%) thought that genetic
engineering of animals for medical research would
pose an environmental risk (item 13).More (44%),
however, thought that genetic engineering of animals
for research might lead to genetic engineering of
humans (item 16).In contrast, some students saw
advantages in the use of genetically engineeredanimals
for this type of research.Aquarter (23%) thought that
research could be conducted more cheaply using such
animals (item 8).More (49%) thought that such
Figure 4 Students’ views about the possible dangers and benefits of using genetically engineered animals
in medical research (n = 778).
procedures could lead to discoveries that could not be
made in any other way,and this view increased in the
older students (item12: 39%, 39%,46%,57%).
Differences in the responses of male and female
students
The responses of male and female students were
compared using Chi-square analysis; these are reported
below where there was clear statistical difference (p <
0.01).Unless otherwise stated the first figure is the
combined percentage of females giving ‘strongly
agree’ and ‘agree’ responses,followed by the
combined percentage of males.There was a tendency
for females to think that they knew less about genetic
engineering in general (item 19):more females
responded that they knew ‘a little’ (43%, 37%) or
‘nothing at all’ (28%, 20%).More females were
worried about genetic engineering too (item18), with
Age groupAge group
PercentagePercentage
PercentagePercentage
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
Cheaper research
Enable novel findings
agree
strongly agree
agree
strongly agree
strongly disagree
disagree
strongly disagree
disagree
neither agree nor
disagree
neither agree nor
disagree
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
strongly disagree
disagree
agree
strongly agree
strongly disagree
disagree
agree
strongly agree
Environmental risk Lead to human engineering
neither agree nor
disagree
neither agree nor
disagree
strongly disagree
agree
strongly agree
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
11/12 13/14 15/16 16/18
100
80
60
40
20
0
Unnatural to produce
Percentage
Percentage
No right to produce
strongly disagree
disagree
agree
strongly agree
neither agree nor
disagree
disagree
neither agree nor
disagree
Genetic engineering of animals Hill,Stanisstreet,O’Sullivan and Boyes
28 School Science Review,June 1999,80(293)
fewer responding that they were ‘not at all worried’
(22%,41%),and more responding that they were ‘a
bit worried’ (64%,50%) or ‘very worried’ (15%,10%).
More of the females thought that animal
experimentation (item 3:47%, 35%) and genetic
engineering of animals (item9:50%, 34%) for medical
research were wrong,and more females ascribed
religious reasons for this (30%,16% for ‘ordinary’
animals – item5; 25%,16%for genetically engineered
animals – item 11).More females also thought that
animal research (item 6:59%,44%) and genetic
engineering for research (item 14:53%,40%) were
cruel,and that they were unnecessary (item 2:45%,
32% for ‘ordinary’ animals; item 15:43%, 33% for
genetically engineered animals).
There was no significant difference in the
distribution of responses of females and males
concerning animal experimentation that did not cause
pain (item 1),although fewer females found such
research acceptable if it did cause pain (item 4: 7%,
20%).More females envisaged animals produced by
genetic engineering to be in constant pain (item 17:
22%,16%).More females also thought genetic
engineering of animals was unnatural (item10: 61%,
44%) and more thought that humans had no right to
produce such organisms (item 7:56%, 33%).Males
and females also differed in their views about the
environmental risk of genetically engineered animals.
Although the same proportion of males and females
affirmed that genetically engineered animals pose an
environmental risk (22%),fewer females (20%) than
males (35%) opposed this view (item13).In contrast,
there was no significant difference in the responses of
males and females to item 16 about whether genetic
engineering of animals would lead to the application
of these techniques to humans.Fewer females thought
that research using genetically engineered animals
would be cheaper (item8:18%, 29%).
Conclusions
The aimof this study was to determine the prevalence
of school and college students’ views about the use of
genetically engineered animals in medical research.
About two-fifths of those surveyed thought that using
naturally bred animals in medical research was wrong.
This proportion is somewhat lower than that found in
a previous study where more than half thought it wrong
(Stanisstreet et al.,1993a),although the wording used
in the previous study (‘to experiment on’ rather than
‘to use’) might be considered harsher.In both the
present and previous studies (Millett et al.,1992;
Stanisstreet et al.,1993a,b), where differences in the
views of females and males were found,it was the
former who were more ‘sympathetic’ and who saw
fewer advantages in the use of animals for research
purposes.
Against this baseline of views about the use of
naturally bred animals in medical research,a question
arises about whether there are more objections to the
use of genetically engineered animals.Very few
students oppose the genetic engineering of microbes
to produce medicines,although more object to the use
of sheep or cows for this purpose (Lock et al.,1993).
The findings of the present study suggest that a
relatively small proportion of students object specif-
ically to production of animals by genetic engineering
for medical research.Such objections as there were
did not appear to have a religious foundation or to be
based on the notion that genetic engineering is more
cruel than other animal research,although they could
have been influenced by the feeling that genetic
engineering for this purpose is unnecessary.Another
finding, which appears to be consistent with previous
studies (Stanisstreet et al.,1993a,b),is that objections
to using non-human animals in medical research
diminish in older students.In part, this may reflect
improvedknowledge of these issues on the part of older
students,because an increase in knowledge about
genetic engineering appears to be associated with an
increased acceptance of the application of the
technology (Lock et al.,1995).
More of the respondents thought that medical
research was acceptable provided that no pain was
caused to the animal; far fewer students were willing
to tolerate such research if pain was inflicted.Most
medical research will be performed under licence,and
the UK Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986
defines an experimental procedure,for certain
categories of vertebrates,as having ‘the effect of
causing...pain, suffering,distress or lasting harm’ to
the animal.Thus,it is likely that little medical research
couldbe undertaken without at least some disadvantage
to the animal.One educational aim, then,might be to
enable students to distinguish between pain,distress
and discomfort.Furthermore,it should be emphasised
that it is a legal requirement to ensure that such pain
or suffering is minimised,compatible with the
objectives of the procedure.
About half the students thought that the production
of animals by genetic engineering was ‘unnatural’,
although not all of these thought it was ‘wrong’.Thus,
School Science Review,June 1999,80(293) 29
Hill,Stanisstreet,O’Sullivan and Boyes Genetic engineering of animals
some students see the production of unnatural organ-
isms as acceptable,at least in this context.Aproportion
of the students saw positive advantages in genetic
engineering of animals for medical research.Some
thought it would be cheaper than research with
‘ordinary’ animals and more,about half, thought that
such procedures could lead to novel discoveries, this
latter view being increasingly prevalent in the older
students.In general, then,genetic engineering of
animals for medical research is seen as no worse than
use of ‘ordinary’ animals for this purpose.Students,
even younger students,do make some distinctions in
this area, viewing,for example, the use of animals for
medical research more sympathetically than their use
for ‘pure’ scientific research and,especially,for cos-
metics testing (Foster et al.,1994).There is evidence
that, within the general area of genetic engineering,
the extent of people’s concerns depends upon the
application to which the technique is put (Frewer et
al.,1997).The results of the present study suggest that
medical research,perhaps because of its obvious if not
immediate benefits,is one area where public opinion
will not constrain the application of new genetic
technologies (Frewer et al.,1995).
The issues surrounding the new genetic
technologies are considered important enough to
feature in formal educational curricula.The English
National Curriculumat key stage 4 (14–16 year-olds),
and the GNVQScience syllabus,both require students
to become familiar with the basic principles of cloning,
selective breeding and genetic engineering.Associated
with these scientific topics may be,in the minds of
students,emotive issues surrounding the manipulation
of what are perceived to be ‘natural’ processes.Indeed,
this may be part of a more general disillusionment with
science,perhaps perceived as the creator as much as
the solver of problems,andas lackingethical neutrality.
Such negative views might act as barriers to learning
about even the science of new biotechnologies.It
might, therefore,assist teachers who engage with the
science content of genetic engineering to be aware of
the likely strength and prevalence of feelings of their
students in this regard,and hence to appreciate the pre-
existing frame of reference from which students
approach the subject.Studies such as the present one
may therefore be helpful in informing teachers,and
allowing them,perhaps by informal discussions, to
challenge prejudices that may hinder understanding
of the science underpinning genetic engineering.This
is not to say that students do not have the right to
opinions.Rather, students will be able to bring their
genuine and principled opinions to bear on a better-
informed understanding of the science,and so form
more considered judgements about the issues
surrounding our use of genetic engineering.
Acknowledgements
We wish to thank the teachers who allowed us access
to their students, the students who completed the
questionnaires,Ms R.Toal for assistance with the
initial stages of the project,Ms Jill McIntosh and Ms
Tina Parker who undertook the data entry,and the
referees for their constructive comments.
References
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Frewer,L.J.,Hedderley,D.,Howard,C.and Shepherd,R.
(1997) ‘Objection’ mapping in determining group and
individual concerns regarding genetic engineering.
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30 School Science Review,June 1999,80(293)
Wording of the questionnaire items
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RuaraidhHill is a postgraduate student and MartinStanisstreet is Senior Lecturer,both in the School of Biological
Sciences,University of Liverpool.HelenO’Sullivanis Lecturer in the Department of Environmental and Biological
Studies,Liverpool Hope University College.Edward Boyes is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education,
University of Liverpool.Ruaraidh Hill,Martin Stanisstreet and Edward Boyes are members of the Environmental
Education Research Unit,Liverpool University.
Genetic engineering
Genetic engineering means changing plants and
animals by altering their genes.Some people
think that genetic engineering will be very
important in the future.
These statements are about using ordinary
animals (like rats and mice) for medical research
(to find out what makes people ill and to test
medicines):
1 It is all right to use ordinary animals for
medical research provided it does not cause them
any pain.
2 There is no need to use ordinary animals for
medical research.
3 It is wrong to use ordinary animals for medical
research.
4 It is all right to use ordinary animals for
medical research even if it causes them pain.
5 It is against my personal religious beliefs to
use ordinary animals for medical research.
6 It is cruel to use ordinary animals for medical
research.
These statements are about using genetic
engineering to produce animals (like rats and
mice) for medical research (to find out what
makes people ill and to test medicines):
7 We don’t have the right to interfere with
nature and produce animals by genetic
engineering for medical research.
8 Medical research can be done more cheaply
with animals that have been produced by genetic
engineering than with other animals.
9 It is wrong to produce animals by genetic
engineering for medical research.
10 It is unnatural to produce animals by genetic
engineering for medical research.
11 It is against my personal religious beliefs to
produce animals by genetic engineering for
medical research.
12 Producing animals by genetic engineering will
allow medical researchers to find out new things
which they couldn’t otherwise find out.
13 Producing animals by genetic engineering is
a risk to the environment.
14 It is cruel to produce animals by genetic
engineering for medical research.
15 There is no need to produce animals by
genetic engineering for medical research.
16 If we allow animals to be produced by genetic
engineering for medical research, this will
encourage genetic engineering of humans.
17 Animals which are produced by genetic
engineering for medical research will be in pain all
the time.
These questions are about how you feel and what
you think you know about genetic engineering:
18 What do you feel about genetic engineering?
19 How much do you think you know about
genetic engineering?
Students were asked to respond to each item by
ticking a box.The following possible responses
were offered:
Items 1–17 I strongly agree; I agree; I neither
agree nor disagree; I disagree; I strongly disagree.
Item18 I am not worried at all about genetic
engineering; I am a bit worried about genetic
engineering; I am very worried about genetic
engineering.
Item19 I know a lot about genetic engineer-
ing; I know something about genetic engineering; I
know a little about genetic engineering; I know
nothing at all about genetic engineering.