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A model program

Summary of the results of the first 10 years of Biota-FAPESP published in Science

Eduardo CesarBromelia balanceaeEduardo Cesar

Biota-FAPESP has released a review of its first 10 years in one of the best-known international scientific journals. In an article published in the North American journal Science on June 11, seven Brazilian researchers summarized the main results achieved from 1999 to 2008 by the São Paulo program and highlighted the importance of the initiative for research, training people and formulating public policies in the area of  biodiversity in São Paulo state. Occupying a page and half in the “Policy Forum” section, the text also stressed that Biota has become a model for the introduction of similar projects in other states in Brazil and abroad. “CNPq [the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development] is planning a similar project and at the start of this year, the National Science Foundation [of the United States] launched its Dimensions of Biodiversity program,” said Carlos Joly, from the Institute of Biology at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), coordinator of  Biota and first author of the article. “Between 2004 and 2006, some of the coordinators of this program had a lot of contact with the work of  Biota.”

For Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP’s scientific director, Biota is one of the Foundation’s most successful programs. “Besides producing science of the highest quality, Biota has had a very significant impact on public conservation policies in the state of São Paulo and has been considered a model for other programs of the same type in Brazil and abroad.”

The figures achieved by the São Paulo program over the past 10 years are impressive. About 1,200 researchers and students took part in 94 Biota projects, of which 20 are ongoing. Most of the scientists were from the state of São Paulo, but at least 100 were from other states in Brazil and 80 from abroad. More than 1,800 new species of fauna and flora were described and data about a further 12, 000 species already known to science were collated and filed in 35 major biological collections that can be consulted online. Since 2001, the program has had an electronic journal, Biota Neotropica, which is listed in international databases. Launched in 2002, the BIOprospecTA initiative, which looks for new molecules in nature that might be of economic interest, has resulted in three patents. One of these molecules is in the preclinical trials phase (in vitro and in laboratory animals) to investigate its potential for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Besides producing a huge amount of technical information for use by other scientists, Biota had the excellet idea of preparing summaries of its most important data in the form of maps that can be easily understood by the authorities responsible for formulating environmental policy and the conservation of biodiversity. Two of these maps on the priority regions for the restoration and conservation of biodiversity were adopted by the state of São Paulo as a legal parameter to guide its actions and directives in this field, including choosing new areas for conservation parks and units. The draft of four government decrees and eleven resolutions in the environmental area contains specific references to information from Biota.

In the Science article, researchers also mention the points regarding which the performance of Biota, a program that is evaluated every two years by an independent international committee, went further than expected in its first decade. According to Joly, these areas, which include the production of educational material for schools, the study of marine biology, the distribution of invasive species in the state of São Paulo and the human dimension of action in the conservation of biodiversity, will receive greater emphasis in the second phase of Biota, which may last as long as 10 years.