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Polling the Public on Science

Half of the people in the UK say they have never heard of the "human genome," but a "clear majority" of UK adults say they are familiar with the terms "DNA" and "genetically modified," according to a new survey from the Wellcome Trust.

The survey of nearly 1,400 adults and 460 young people found that people in the UK are interested in medical research, tend to trust scientists and physicians, and think that science is important enough to participate in research and provide access to their personal medical information.

But the level of awareness of basic science that the report found might strike a note of concern among those in the biomedical research community.

The Wellcome Trust survey, conducted with Ipsos MORI, found that 75 percent of adults and 58 percent of young people are interested in medical research. In addition, 40 percent of respondents said that not enough money is being spent on medical research, and around three-quarters of adults think that the public should be able to play some role making decisions about the direction of such research.

Sixty percent of adults in the UK said they would be willing to participate in a medical research project even if it required providing access to their medical records. Two-thirds said they trust medical practitioners the most as a source of information about medical research, while six out of ten said they have little trust in journalists to provide such research information.

Despite the interest and willingness to engage in biomedical research, the study also found that "understanding of how research is conducted is not deep," Wellcome Trust says.

Although 67 percent of adults and 50 percent of young people are aware of the concept of a controlled experiment in science, a majority could not explain why this process is effective.

The survey also found that around half of all adults and nearly 60 percent of young people think that life evolved as a result of natural selection, with a God figure having no involvement in the process.