Letter from the editor | 113

An in-depth Brazil is worthy of attention

Some decades ago a small town in the northeast, some 370 kilometers from Natal, in the State of Rio Grande do Norte, became accustomed to seeing some of its inhabitants being attacked by a mysterious illness that reduced their vision, that little by little stiffened and weakened their legs, afterwards their arms, and finally affecting all of their posture, until those affected “closed up like a flower”, in the delicate description of a researcher. The inhabitants of Serrinha dos Pintos – this is its name –, where consanguinity marriages are common, fantasized that the illness had originated from the syphilis of a common ancestor of many of them, “Old Maximiniano”, that had happened some 150 years ago. From that point onwards the illness had been spread through the blood of his descendants. Last May, this story, which had been passed from generation to generation, received a mortal blow: researchers from the Human Genome Studies Center and the Hospital das Clínicas of the University of Sao Paulo (USP) had defined the strange malady of the Serrinha citizens in the magazine Annals of Neurology, as a neurodegenerative illness brought about by a mutation in a gene that is found in a region of chromosome No. 1, up until then unassociated with any neurological infirmity.

The discover positioned itself, without competitors, as the object of the Pesquisa FAPESP July issue cover story, put together by special editor Marcos Pivetta, who, together with the photographer Eduardo Cesar spent a few days in June in rustic Serrinha. In the text, which begins on page 36, he covers the researchers’ scientific findings concerning the illness, relates the always intriguing mixture of chance and well-guided investigation that ended up with these results and shows how the victims of the SPOAN syndrome – Spastic Paraplegia, Optic Atrophy and Neuropathy (words that practically summarize the clinical picture that the syndrome brings on) – lead their lives in the Rio Grande do Norte town.

Still in the medicine and health environment, it is worth emphasizing the article by Francisco Bicudo, starting on page 50, concerning new evidence on the benefits of acupuncture found by researchers from the Federal University of Sao Paulo (UNIFESP). They have verified that this thousand year old Chinese therapy of the superficial introduction of needles into the skin can combat gastritis and stomach ulcers, as well as the irritating and dangerous nocturnal problem of apnea, and they perceived that its mechanism of functioning is linked to the better use of serotonin as a powerful analgesic for the peripheral nerves.

I believe it’s interesting to call the readers’ attention to the variety of reports in this issue that shows today how the research in the country is well spread out. At that end, from Recife the journalist Verônica Falcão tells us on pages 58 and 59 how researchers from the Federal Universities of Pernambuco (UFPE) and Paraíba (UFPB), with the help of physicists from Sao Paulo, have reconstituted the megafuana of the Northeast of around 50,000 years ago. From the town of Sao Carlos, in Sao Paulo, our technology editor, Marcos de Oliveira, tells us about ceramic nanotapes, candidates for making circuit and transistor connections (page 66), while our assistant editor, Dinorah Ereno, deals with the adaptation of a hyperbaric chamber in Rio de Janeiro, in order to equip the first pilot scheme for generating electricity from sea waves, to be installed in Ceará State (page 76). Then, in the humanities section, the journalist Gonçalo Júnior takes us to Salvador (page 88), where a study concerning the six-hundred-year old poet Gregório de Mattos, (The Mouth of Hell), presents new documentary facts on his life that will probably not silence the controversy surrounding this polemic figure. And to close the circle, we return to a Brazil as deep as at the beginning, but in the other direction, in the article from our humanities editor, Carlos Haag (page 80), about research that reveals among other things how uncontrolled authoritarianism still reigns within the Brazilian information service.