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Among pioneers

Luiz Edmundo de Magalhães took part in the consolidation of genetics in Brazil


Magalhães (in white shirt) in field research in Mongaguá, in the 1950'sCOLLECTION OF COMISSÃO MEMÓRIA IB-USP

At the end of the 1940s, when he was studying natural history at the University of São Paulo (USP), Luiz Edmundo de Magalhães often heard Theodosius Dobzhansky, a Russian biologist, naturalized North American, who worked in Brazil at the time, call biologist Crodowaldo Pavan “dear little Pavan,” as a sign of informality and friendship that did not mitigate the strictness with which they worked. Dobzhansky, after distinguishing himself worldwide because he helped to unify the principles of the theory of evolution with Mendelian genetics, set up the first research groups in genetics in the country – and Pavan soon stood out as one of the young talents.

Magalhães used to listen attentively to the long conversations of the two pioneers of Brazilian genetics and accompanied them when they went into the forests in search of drosophilae, the tiny flies adopted as model animals for genetic variability studies. He himself did a PhD in 1958 (the first one that Pavan ever supervised), a study on variations in the size of populations of Drosophila of the willistoni subgroup, found on the islands of Angra dos Reis, in Rio de Janeiro.

The son of a tradesman and seamstress, born in Guaxupé, Minas Gerais, he died on May 23, aged 84, after having left his own mark. As a professor at the Institute of Biosciences (IB) at USP, he identified new species of drosophilae and supervised biologists who today lecture at universities in São Paulo and other states. “Edmundo always helped, never bothered anyone, and was very honest,” says André Perondini, 72, a professor at the IB. “We talked a lot in the lab. There was still time to think, have a coffee, drink a beer; there was no rush as there is today.”

Magalhães did not restrict himself to life in the laboratory and as his son Carlos said in a statement in the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, he dreamed of a solid scientific structure for the country. He headed the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) from 1975 to 1979, helping to expand the number of courses from 6 to 19, and was the director of the Institute of Biosciences from 1985 to 1988; Perondini was his deputy director.

His action is noted in various universities. At the end of his CV on the Lattes platform, Magalhães stated that he had been a scientific advisor to FAPESP “since its creation.” At the request of the then scientific director, Rui Carlos Camargo Vieira, he led a commission that prepared a plan for improving São Paulo’s vivaria in the 1980s and resulted in the expansion of the vivarium at USP, at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp).

Magalhães was a board member and secretary general of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) from 1969 to 1991. A few days before dying, when he was in hospital, he handed the originals of the book Humanistas e cientistas do Brasil [Humanists and Scientists of Brazil], which he organized, to Helena Nader, president of the SBPC. He was married to Nícia Wendel de Magalhães, a biology professor and environmentalist (they met when they studied together at USP). They had 6 children, who have given them 11 grandchildren and 1 great-granddaughter.