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Letter from the editor | 97

Against the shadows of the imagination

The cover story of this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP deals with a few concrete  developments of a theme that, riddled with complex ethical, philosophical, political and legal issues, amongst others, for some time now has overflowed its strict original field, the scientific one, into the open ground of society.  It seems natural that this theme – research in biotechnology and, in particular, one of its most promising branches, research with the stem cells of cloned human embryos – should provoke heated discussions, impassioned ones, even. Among other reasons, because one knows that the new knowledge produced by this area of research can cause radical transformations in man’s dealings with life, including changes in conception about human life itself and adopting new practices intended to preserve it, to prolong it, and to change it, but at the same time it is impossible to foresee them precisely. This impossibility, of course, provides food for the imagination, at times in a twisted way, setting off fears and somber presages.

Against the whole lot, certainly one of the best antidotes is to throw light on what is at stake, is information that is sufficiently abundant to help to lead the debate to more consistent terms. In this direction, Pesquisa FAPESP offers here a small contribution, first by explaining in the stories by the Policy editor, Claudia Izique, why a good number of the Brazilian scientific community has taken a stance against two aspects of the Biosafety bill that, having been approved by the Chamber of Deputies, now finds itself in the Federal Senate – that is to say, the definition with regard to who has the last word about the marketing of genetically modified organisms in the country, and the prohibition of research with stem cells for therapeutic purposes. And, next, showing, in the story from special editor Marcos Pivetta, how the international polemics about the subject are doing, after a team of South Korean  researchers announced a successful cloning of 30 human embryos, from which a lineage of pluripotent stem cells was extracted, for the purpose of research in the therapeutic area.

It is in the sphere of new therapies, incidentally, but far from the tremors that still surround the search for revolutionary gene therapy, that this issue brings some good news: Brazilian researchers hope to provide shortly a new chemical weapon against tuberculosis, a disease that kills from 2 to 3 million people a year all, over the world, most of them in poor countries. A new molecule, specially designed to liquidate more quickly the main bacterium that causes the ailment, with less toxic effects for the patient, baptized for the time being as IQG 607 and already patented in Brazil, is at the final stage of pre-clinical tests with mice, reports Pivetta.

Good news is also arising in the terrain of information technology, where Brazilian competence traditionally sees itself surrounded by many doubts: researchers from São Carlos have announced a new process and a new formulation of a chip, capable of increasing 250 times the memory of computers.  The most amazing thing, as Marcos de Oliveira, the editor for Technology, reports, starting on page 64, is that to develop the new materials with this potential the group availed itself of a household microwave oven.

In the Humanities pages, it is worth highlighting the article by Laura Greenhalgh about historical studies carried out at the Rio dos Sinos Valley University (Unisinos) that have been revealing some little known aspects of the close relationship between Jesuits and Indians in the colonial enterprises known as the Missions, and the fine article by Alcir Pécora, a critic and a professor of Literary Theory, about the utterly special and until now very little analyzed work by writer Hilda Hilst, who died last month.