Letter from the editor | 80

Surprises from the plant world

Those who are sincerely concerned with the future of the planet are showing indignation with the refusal of the United States – the country responsible for one quarter of the global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere – to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. They did, however, perceive with relief clear signs emitted at Johannesburg in September, of the growing international isolation of the American position. Nevertheless, in doubt as to the good results of diplomacy, researchers who deal tangibly with problems of the environment continue to roll up their sleeves and to pursue solutions capable of preventing the announced disaster that the uncontrolled increase of carbon dioxide in the air that we breath would mean for mankind. Among the general ideas that are guiding the quest for solutions, one is particularly controversial: to transform the tropical forests into carbon dioxide cleaners. But if one day this idea, which seems to have the diaphanous substance of a dream, becomes possible, a group of Brazilian researchers taking part in the Biota-FAPESP program have a good candidate for the role of air cleaner: the courbaril. Why this big tree that is able to reach up to 20 meters in height can be put in this position and how specialists in plant physiology have arrived at this conclusion is what Marcos Pivetta shows in the cover story.

The plant world reveals another surprise in this edition, except that, in this case, it is a disagreeable and dangerous one. It is that bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), also known as brake fern or eagle fern, an obligatory ingredient in a recipe for chicken that is intensely consumed in the region of Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, favors, according to report by Francisco Bicudo, the proliferation of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes bland problems like warts, and others as serious as cancer of the breast, the bladder and the digestive apparatus. The research not only points out this somber fact about bracken for its consumers, it also suggests the possibility of HPV being transmitted by the blood – which would create a hitherto unexpected problem for public health. It was a strong contender with the courbaril for the cover of this issue, not least for its immediate social significance, on a par with the scientific results.

On the technology front, before anything else it is worth highlighting a novelty that we are introducing in this issue: inside the Production Line section, a subsection of innovative patents financed and registered by Nuplitec, FAPESP’s Nucleus for Patenting and Licensing Technology. This is a way for interested businesspersons to become aware and to propose the licensing of new technologies that are useful for their field of activities. But among the various articles that show significant advances in technological research in Brazil, the one signed by Marcos de Oliveira merits special mention, in which he explains a new technique that avails itself of lasers for an early diagnosis of citrus canker. This is a disease that currently calls for exhausting work by a battalion of inspectors and for annual investments of almost R$ 100 million by São Paulo’s citrus fruits planters. Also to be highlighted are the technical improvements in the biodegradable plastic made from sugarcane, a genuinely Brazilian product than is gaining ground in the international market, as Yuri Vasconcelos reports.

In the pages dedicated to the Humanities, we call attention to the article on the four recently issued volumes from the Anthropology, History and Education series, resulting from the admirable and substantial thematic project supported by FAPESP, which was started in 1995 to think out kinds of education capable of fostering an interethnic dialog between Indians and non-Indians. And to round off with some enjoyment the reading of Pesquisa FAPESP, we have the cartoonist Claudius, our new collaborator, in Last Word .