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Computing tools

Microsoft-Fapesp IT Research Institute call covers projects in biodiversity, bionenergy and climate change

Eduardo Cesar Coffee flowerEduardo Cesar

Four research projects were approved under the new call for research from the Microsoft-Fapesp IT Research Institute, a joint FAPESP and Microsoft effort aimed at developing IT knowledge as well as developing applications with a social impact. The call, the third since the institute was set up in 2007, included projects that have strong synergy with FAPESP’s other programs, such as Biota (conservation of biodiversity), Bioen (bioenergy) and the global climate change program.

One of the approved projects is SinBiota 2.0: thinking about the next 10 years. This aims to develop new computing tools for SinBiota, the Environment Information System, which brings together and integrates information produced by researchers working on the projects that are part of Biota-FAPESP, the Program of Research into the Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use of São Paulo State Biodiversity. Today, SinBiota allows one to see the distribution of the catalogued species in the São Paulo State area on a digital cartographic base. The idea is to upgrade this system, to include, for instance, tool capable of automatically correcting keyboarding errors in the names of new species. The new system is to be modular, enabling, in the future, the creation of new interfaces that should make it possible to cross biodiversity data, for instance, with socioeconomic or climate information about the region under analysis. “As SinBiota was conceived 10 years ago and the Biota program is entering a new phase, it is certainly the right time to upgrade the system”, says Carlos Joly, the project’s coordinator, a professor at the Biology Institute of the State University of Campinas and Biota-FAPESP’s coordinator.

The project Information Technology applied to genomics for bioenergy: probabilistic notations using artificial intelligence is under the coordination of physicist Ricardo Vêncio, a professor at the Genetics Department of the Ribeirão Preto Medical School of the University of São Paulo. The proposal concerns developing methods that use artificial intelligence (Bayesian networks) to try to characterize the function of sugarcane genes. The project has strong synergy with the work of Bioen, the FAPESP Program of Research into Bioenergy. One of the Bioen coordinators, researcher Glaucia Mendes de Souza, is involved with the initiative. “The approach is innovative because it isn’t limited to ascribing to a given organism’s sequence of genes, the functions already observed in a similar sequence from another living being”, says Vêncio. “The idea is to use algorithms that take into account the uncertainty of this association, in order to characterize the result’s reliability”, he says. The results are to provide support for Bioen research into improving sugarcane cultivars for the production of biomass, but the methodology is generic and should apply equally to the study of the genome of the disease agents such as those causing malaria and Chagas’ disease, among others.

Coordinated by Agma Juci Machado Traina, from the Mathematical and Computing Sciences Institute at the University of São Paulo (ICMC-USP), the project Development of data mining methods and techniques as support for research into climate change, emphasizing agro-meteorology aims to improve agro-climate models by evaluating and crossing large volumes of data obtained with sensors and from remote sensing images. “Our target is to create models and algorithms that will allow us to identify trends and establish correlations in these large volumes of data, to help agro-meteorology experts speed up their decision-making”, says Agma. The new methods should allow one to forecast regional climate phenomena more precisely, on a daily or weekly basis. This can be applied in civil defense, the treatment of water resources and agriculture.

As for the project Development and application of an environmental monitoring geo-sensors network, under the coordination of Celso von Randow, from the Terrestrial System Sciences Center (CCST) of Inpe (Brazil’s National Space Research Institute), it proposes to develop a system to collect data on the interactions between the biosphere and the earth’s surface in heterogeneous, complex regions. In the first experiment, 50 sensors are to be installed in the area of research of the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA). Following this, as many as 1,000 sensors are to be installed in the region. “This should allow us to monitor in great detail the small temperature and humidity fluctuations within and above forest areas”, says Randow. The network will allow the researchers to take frequent temperature and air humidity measurements, which in turn will help them to understand how the air flows in the forest, as well as energy and mass exchanges, involving, for instance, carbon and water.

The Microsoft-Fapesp IT Research Institute has been providing support for cutting-edge Information and Communication Technologies (TICs) through projects capable of expanding citizens’ access to new technologies. The first two calls provided funding of some R$2.5 million for proposals in the fields of health, education, digital inclusion, agriculture and e-government. As for the third call, the available funds amount to R$1 million.