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Letter from the editor | 56

A visible marriage between science and technology

Even particle research produces innovation and effects in the market

Although the advances obtained in knowledge and understanding of the structure and origin of the universe throughout the 20th century have been notable, phenomena that remain as fascinating mysteries in this field continue to challenge the scientists’ – in particular physicists – desire to know them and to explain them. The so-called particles of extremely high energy make up, without a shadow of a doubt, one of these great mysteries. After all, what are these subatomic particles with insignificant mass, and on the other hand, are endowed with such energy that the most energetic phenomenon produced on Earth, the particle accelerator in the Fermi lab, can only manage a quantum of energy one million times less than that which they carry? What part of the Universe these rare particles come from, which arrive at the Earth’s atmosphere with a frequency of only one per century per square kilometer?

For the time being, nobody has answers to settle these questions and among those who are endeavoring to obtain them, the scientists involved in the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory Project stand out, the theme of the cover of this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP. With the financial support of US$ 1.6 million from FAPESP and of US$ 340,000 from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Brazilian participation is decisive in this international undertaking, be it in terms of the human resources at the highest level placed at the disposition of the project, be it in relation to the infrastructure of the observatory, which has upon essential equipment, central indeed, designed, developed and produced by national industry. Idealized by the North American physicist James Cronin, Nobel Prize winner in 1980, the Pierre Auger Observatory will have at first a southern site, which is already starting to take shape in Mendoza, in the Argentine, expected to be completely installed in 2003. Once this is completed, the coordinators of the project will define the strategy for the implanting of the northern site in the state of Utah in the United States.

In this issue, it is also worth highlighting the stories referring to the field of knowledge that recently projected science carried out in Brazil to a position of visibility and international recognition never before attained in its history. We are speaking, of course, of genomics. Here we report on the significant elevation of the investments in the Human Genome Cancer Project, decided upon by the two institutes responsible for the project – FAPESP and the Ludwig Cancer Research Institute –, in parallel the decision to double the initial goal for the production of sequences of expressed genes in tumors, from 500,000 (already attained) to 1 million sequences by the end of this year. We will also brings the news of two new genome projects initiated a short time ago by the Foundation: one about a variety of Xylella that attacks the grapevines of California, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture of the United States (which, we might add, provoked jealousy and dispute on the part of a North American laboratory), and that of Leifsonia xyli subsp.xyli, previously known as Clavibacter, that affects sugarcane, in a partnership between an Australian research institute and Copersucar. And finally, still within the domain of genomics, this issue brings a story about an extremely important advance obtained in relation to the genetic transformation of Xylella fastidiosa – for the first time, a sequence of DNA obtained in a laboratory was “accepted” by the genome of the bacterium –, which opens up the way for genetically based strategies in combating the yellowing disease, a powerful enemy of São Paulo fruit growing.

In a certain manner, the articles quoted above have a visible union between science, technology and society. As well, the report about company incubators –  in the Technology section – throws some light specifically on the beneficial effects of the construction of institutional bridge between university laboratories and the market, here in a country such as Brazil.