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Letter from the editor | 254

Understanding aging

Reports on aging always attract readers, especially those seeking to avoid the destiny faced by every living being. Humanity has already greatly advanced in terms of longevity, but to find new ways to delay aging, science must first understand it—something it has been attempting for decades.

A vast amount of research indicates that there are multiple processes involved in aging, not just one. This issue’s cover story presents the main areas of research into the cellular and molecular mechanisms associated with biological aging, with an emphasis on Brazilian involvement in the field. Two of the key processes are the cells’ loss of ability to multiply, which makes it difficult to repair tissue, and a declining chance of DNA self-repair when defects arise. Other factors involve organelles such as mitochondria, structures such as telomeres, and each person’s individual genetic profile. Rather than providing definitive answers, the latest research has only served to highlight the complexity of the problem.

With regard to cells grown in a laboratory, a new concept has been successful: the three-dimensional culture. In a two-dimensional environment, such as a Petri dish, the cells form a flat layer that does not reflect their organization in living organisms. Developing a culture suspended in a gel has enabled not only the proliferation of the cells, but also the reproduction of their architecture. The article on page 58 describes how a group from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory used a three-dimensional culture to identify physical links between genetic information in the cell nucleus and the cellular environment, deepening our understanding of the cell’s relationships with its surrounding environment.

This issue also includes reports on the venomous bristles of Lonomia obliqua caterpillars and the use of wasps to biologically control citrus greening (a disease that affects orange groves), but more is covered than just biology. During a visit to Brazil, experimental physicist Daniel Kleppner, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, granted us an interview and talked about his research, which led to advances such as the Global Positioning System (GPS). In addition to his significant contributions to atomic physics, the researcher devoted himself to education, arguing that teaching and research go hand in hand: “Teaching must be a creative process, to find new ways of understanding things, which also plays an important role in scientific research.”

The omnipresence of photographs in the modern world is the subject of a report on page 84, which shows how their ubiquitousness is linked not only to the popularization of cameras, but also to increasing tourism and travel. At the end of the nineteenth century, new means of transportation and the introduction of paid holidays boosted tourism—and these coveted trips would not be complete without a photographic record, making the personal camera an extremely desirable possession.

The Serrapilheira Institute, a private institute dedicated to promoting research in the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics, announced the beginning of operations. The initiative, founded by documentary filmmaker João Moreira Salles, is a positive example of the investment of private resources for public benefit—in this case, scientific research. If it succeeds, Serrapilheira could be the inspiration for other similar enterprises.

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