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Letter from the Editor | 306

At a crossroads

The eastern Amazon is no longer a carbon dioxide sink and is now a source of this greenhouse gas, according to a recently published study. Confirming previous, less comprehensive data, the research sought to measure the carbon balance in areas of the Amazon suffering varying levels of deforestation, wild fires, and climate change. The results of the study, led by chemist Luciana Gatti of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and funded by the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change, were published in Nature and made headlines around the world.

Based on analyses of air samples collected in four regions of the Amazon between 2010 and 2018, the study suggests that average carbon dioxide emissions were about 10 times higher in the east, where the so-called deforestation arc is located, than in the west, where the rainforest is better preserved.

The widespread repercussions of this research coincide with the 60th anniversary of Brazil’s space research agency, INPE. The institute has been a pioneer in monitoring Brazilian deforestation, renowned for its successful satellite program, introducing modern weather forecasting to the country based on computer modeling, and its research in fields such as astrophysics, space climate, and climate change.

Headquartered in São José dos Campos in the state of São Paulo, INPE has branches in six other states. Altogether, the institute has awarded more than 1,000 doctorates and nearly 2,500 masters degrees. Now, on its 60th anniversary, the agency finds itself in a delicate situation. In 2019, deforestation data released by the agency was dismissed by the federal government and its director was fired. Its annual budget, which was R$417 million in 2006, was just R$75.8 million this year. As described in this issue’s cover story, the future is uncertain for many of its major space projects, such as the Amazon Mission and the CBERS program, which uses satellites made in partnership with China.

The biodiversity of the Amazon, which is under threat, may be a promising source of wealth and well-being in Brazil for the coming decades, argue the proponents of a regenerative, circular, and sustainable economic activity. The article on page 76 presents the concept of a bioeconomy, which could be the starting point for a new cycle of industrialization. To take advantage of being the country with the greatest biodiversity on Earth and its strong scientific structure, Brazil needs to adapt and create new economic processes and confront climate change and deforestation.

Geneticist Sérgio Danilo Pena, from the state of Minas Gerais, showed 20 years ago that among Brazilians, the Y chromosome, inherited from the father, comes predominantly from the country’s European colonizers, while the mitochondrial DNA, inherited from the mother, is mostly Amerindian or African. This sexually asymmetric triracial heritage has also been observed in countries such as Colombia and Venezuela, but not in Bolivia and Peru, where the African diaspora is much smaller.

Pena, who works with ancestry analysis, states in an interview that in Brazil, the association between skin color and ancestry is tenuous. His research shows that in the north and northeast of the country, where a greater proportion of people declare themselves as “pardo,” meaning triracial, there is no greater evidence of mixed ancestry than in the south, where more of the population declares themselves white. “Under the skin, the combinations vary wildy.”

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