International Challenge

Biota-FAPESP to enter new phase and seek greater participation abroad

EDUARDO CESARProgram to emphasize bioprospection by seeking out companiesEDUARDO CESAR

Ten years after its launch, the Biota-FAPESP program is entering a new phase. Following the effort that enabled the description of more than 500 species of plants and animals spread over the 150 thousand square kilometers of the State of São Paulo (it yielded 75 research projects, 150 master’s degrees and 90 doctorates, besides 599 articles in 170 periodicals, 16 books and 2 atlases) the program is now turning to challenges such as expanding the international visibility of its output. The aims include increasing the number of publications in high-impact journals and encouraging the international exchange of researchers and visiting professors, as well as participation in events abroad. “Though the research conducted under the Biota program is of high quality, we are yet to achieve international acknowledgement on a par with its excellence”, explains Carlos Alfredo Joly, a professor at the Biology Institute of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and the new coordinator of the program, a position he had already held from 1999 to 2004.

Joly is replacing Ricardo Ribeiro Rodrigues, from the Luiz de Queiroz School of Agriculture at the University of São Paulo (Esalq-USP), who made a remarkable contribution in making available data on biodiversity used in the preparation of public policies, for reaching out to similar initiatives in other countries, and for formalizing the program: last month, FAPESP and Unicamp signed an agreement whereby the university will supply the structure and personnel for the housing, development and management of the Biota database. “We made progress toward achieving these challenges, which were set five years ago”, says Ricardo Rodrigues. Since its establishment, the program has received an average investment from FAPESP of US$2.5 million/year.

Biota researchers are also to step-up their effort to transform the results of bioprospecting into products, by getting BIOprospecTA, the Biota Bioprospecting and Trials Network, to approach the pharmacology area as well as companies. “A country with such rich biodiversity must achieve high-impact products”, stated Vanderlan da Silva Bolzani, from the Araraquara Institute of Chemistry of Paulista State University (Unesp) and the network’s coordinator.

Emphasis on themes such as mitigating the effects of agriculture on biodiversity will be stepped up. “Agriculture is a major agent of environment modification; this area involves increasingly major conflicts”, says Luciano Verdade, a professor from Esalq-USP and a member of Biota’s coordinating team. “Mitigating these effects means adding conservation value to agriculture”, he says. The coordinating team also includes Célio Haddad, from the Unesp Biosciences Institute in the city of Rio Claro, and Mariana Oliveira, from the USP Biosciences Institute. All the coordinating team members head thematic projects under the Biota program.

Another Biota priority will be to reach out to other FAPESP programs, such as Bioen (Beanery Research) and PFPMCG (Global Climate Change Research). “We’re planning a joint discussion involving the three programs to find out the overlaps and to encourage the integration of projects”, states Joly. Biota will start to release calls involving specific geographies or thematic areas. “The calls for research are an important tool for filling gaps, directing the demand for participation to specific areas”, says the coordinator.