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Letter from the editor | 62

“The applications of science”

When Governor Mário Covas died on the 6th of March, his public and private life was gone over from top to bottom. All of the voices heard were unanimous in remembering the extreme integrity with which he behaved during his political career, his courage in his fight against the dictatorship and of how he acted correctly to rebuild São Paulo during the six years in which he governed the State. However, what was only slightly touched upon was his work in favor of science and technology in the State of São Paulo. Without any hesitation and enthusiastically Governor Covas valued the scientific production of the universities and the research institutes. He realized, like none other of his predecessors, the importance of the work of the researchers for full development of the country. In October of 1999, during a ceremony for the announcement of the first approved projects in the research program into public policies, he emphasized the importance of “the syntony of the research system with the promotion of well-being and of social justice.” The magazine Pesquisa FAPESP has substituted in this issue the section “Memories” for an honoring to the public figure who always saw science and technology clearly, without underestimating its role, a practice not so often common in other Governors. (Page 6). It is an example which will certainly be followed by Governor Geraldo Alckmin, who, through his background, was always close and attentive to the issues in this sector.

The cover of this month’s edition is a perfect example of how science can serve the well-being of society, as Governor Covas used to preach. A thematic project financed by FAPESP made possible the creation of a service which, most certainly, has already saved many lives up and down the Brazilian coast. In the interior of the State of São Paulo, from the National Institute of Spatial Research (Inpe), the mathematician Dr. Valdir Innocentini created a service for the forecasting of cyclones. When the Wave Forecasting System, developed by him and his team, detects the phenomenon forming in the South Atlantic, radio and television stations and newspapers all over the coast are informed so as to warn the population of the formation of gigantic waves on the coastal regions. Once informed, the fishermen will not leave for sea and people will stay clear of rocky cliffs. On two occasions in 1999, the alerts from Dr. Innocentini’s team helped to avoid deaths. A report about the research and this fine service beginson page 50.

The commemoration of the disclosure of the sequencing of the human genome caused a certain frustration at the end of the announcement by the two groups who had been working on the project. The teams of Francis Collins and Craig Venter, – the former is the leader of the public international consortium and the latter is the leader of the private North American company Celera Genomics, – mapped 95% of the human genes and concluded that they are a lot less numerous than had been thought. We have, according to the data disclosed, around 30,000 genes, only the double of that possessed by worms and flies. A blow to the pride of homo sapiens, as reported in the story which details the great job of the two groups (page 24).

In an exclusive interview to the Pesquisa FAPESP magazine (page 28), the polemic Craig Venter forgets the disappointment and moves forward. He believes that the number of genes is an excellent base for researchers to follow up on and to attempt to better understand how the human genome functions. “Those who only look at the genes or at the environment are missing the point,” he stated “one needs to look at both of them together.” It is up for researchers to roll their sleeves and go on working.