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molecular biology

Encyclopedia of genomics

A 1,200 page work, written by a hundred scientists from Brazil, is a landmark on the theme

Written in the course of two years by a group of 113 scientists, almost all of them Brazilians, a tome of 1,200 pages is reaching the bookstores to become a technical work of reference when the subject is the vast world of genomics, a branch of molecular genetics that, like an octopus with countless tentacles, extends it innumerous arms over multiple areas of biology. Simply called Genômica [Genomics], the book, which costs about R$ 200.00 and was published by the Atheneu publishing house, does a review of everything that, since the 1950’s until today, has to do with the theme. It is what people like to call a weighty work – and this has nothing to do with its 3.7 kilos.

“It is an encyclopedic work, unprecedented, that integrates genomics with basic questions of a medical, agrarian and environmental”, explains veteran geneticist Francisco Mauro Salzano, an emeritus professor of the University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), the author of the preface of the book and one of its editors. “In Portuguese, it is the most complete book on the theme.” As Salzano points out, the work is not limited to themes related to the genome of man and to the use of this knowledge in heath research or in clinical medicine. Techniques and concepts of the molecular biology used for the study of plants and animals also find ample room in the book.

Any methodology or theme that has arisen in the last few decades is investigated in Genômica, a work done by researchers from ten medical schools and 12 research institutes from all over the country. “Physicians, biologists, pharmacists, nutritionists, agronomist engineers, clinical geneticists, all have been aggregated to the work around a common axis – genomics – like a new frontier of human knowledge”, explains Luís Mir, a researcher from the health area and an organizer of the book. “It was a collective effort. We knew that we were breaking a paradigm, like authors of a new kind of scientific book, like multiprofessional and multidisciplinary critical mass.”

Nothing of any relevance escaped the eyes of the editors. Cloning, biotechnology, transgenics, stem cells, bioinformatics, proteomics, cell therapy, these and many other topics are addressed in one of the more than 50 chapters of the book. Do you want to know what gene vaccines are? Read chapter 23, which begins on page 463. Interested in pharmacogenomics? Chapter 32, page 663. The history of the Genome projects in Brazil is told by José Fernando Perez, FAPESP’s scientific director, and two scientists from the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Andrew Simpson and Juçara Parra, in chapter 54. At the end of Genômica, there is also a glossary that succinctly explains the meaning of the concepts commonly used by professionals from the area of molecular biology.

For its nature of a technical work for consultations, Genômica is not an editorial product intended for the general public. “The book is aimed at students from the area of biological sciences and medicine”, deems Mayana Zatz, the coordinator of the Human Genome Studies Center of the University of São Paulo (USP). On her own, Mayana wrote a chapter of the book dedicated to the genomics of neuromuscular and neurodegenerative diseases. Jointly with Luís Mir, she also drafted two texts about ethics amongst geneticists, in medicine, in science, and in scientific policy. For the researcher, the fact that the work was done by Brazilian scientists should be pointed out. “This gives an idea of the comprehensiveness of the researches under way in Brazil today”, explains Mayana. Due to its contribution to the development of some branches of genomics, like the studies about the molecular biology of plant pathogens and about genetics and cancer, the country has come to be internationally respected in this competitivearea of human knowledge.