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Environment, celebrations and thoughts

If taken in its unequivocal and assumed identity as the Brazilian magazine for the dissemination of science, Pesquisa FAPESP will reach its 10th anniversary in early October. Yes, the opening caveat is required because, like so many other intellectual creations, certain ambiguities surround the origin of this publication. And they point to at least two different interpretations of the publication’s true age. First, if we take the number of monthly issues as the most consistent indicator of time lapsed, we would say that Revista FAPESP has already reached its 14th year. If, however, we stick to the product “magazine” in the strict sense of the word and to the title Pesquisa FAPESP, we return to the original piece of information that led us to celebrate its 10th anniversary now. Explaining this to those readers who have neither heard nor read anything about this: in the past, there was a small newsletter called Notícias FAPESP, first published in August 1995. Little by little this grew, becoming more substantial and gradually more complex, so that, with proper planning, not to say affection, Pesquisa FAPESP was born in October 1999. The newsletter had yielded 46 issues (an average of 11 a year). When it became Pesquisa FAPESP, all of us – the Foundation’s board of governors, the librarians consulted and the very journalists who worked on it – agreed that it was only fair, and in keeping with the art of indexation, to ascribe number 47 to this issue. This would highlight the continuity of a project, no matter how strongly the publication had already progressed, and was yet to advance, relative to the modest original newsletter in terms of quality, editorial importance and ambition.

I will not linger further in this section on an analysis of the magazine, which, by now, has even become the subject matter of certain academic studies that have investigated, among other aspects, its role at the forefront of the dissemination of science in Brazil, examining its language in detail. As Celso Lafer already stated in his speech on becoming FAPESP’s president in September 2007, Pesquisa is a significant external facet of the Foundation’s role, while also helping to raise the awareness of public opinion about the relevant and indispensable nexus in the different fields of knowledge in the contemporary world. Of course, we must dedicate time, and a lot of it, to thinking about how to improve Pesquisa FAPESP and broaden its influence on the dissemination of knowledge and more solid scientific thinking in our country, without giving up our incessant pursuit of clarity and elegance in its journalistic articles and its visuals, which have become the magazine’s trademark. And although comments from the widest range of forums in Brazil and even from abroad on its editorial quality have been very flattering, it is with a critical spirit and simplicity, with strictness and creative drive that we must think about Pesquisa FAPESP in the coming years.

But it is time to talk about this issue’s highlights. First, the cover feature, which comprises two texts: one by our assistant science editor, Maria Guimarães, the other by our special editor, Carlos Fioravanti. The two articles address the mathematical models that help one to foresee the impact of global warming and in particular of deforestation on Brazil’s landscape and agriculture within a timeframe as long as a century. According to Maria, jaguars in the Amazon Region may no longer find suitable areas to live in; the western São Paulo state Cerrado savannas may disappear entirely; and losses from soy farming may reach R$4.3 billion a year, judging by the soundly based estimates from researchers studying the climate changes foreseen by the IPCC. As for Fioravanti’s text, it discusses the consequences of deforestation even in areas that are far from deforested regions. Deforestation might first cause the level of river waters to rise, but this might be followed by a shrinking of the flow, all of which would have a severe impact on the rainfall system.

From these rather somber environmental forecasts, it is well worth skipping to a field with an esthetic content that, let us say, glitters. I am referring to the article on an innovative gold treatment process that enables one to obtain alloys in several colors for jewelry. According to our assistant technology editor, Dinorah Ereno, “at first sight, the gold pieces remind one of surprisingly colored stones and shifting tones,” depending on how the light strikes them. One can achieve a range of blues, iridescent purple and other colors by means of a high-frequency grinding technique, far removed from the gold smelting normally employed in jewelry making. Here we are in a vast field when it comes to the imagination of jewelry designers and perhaps, for the business of this segment in Brazil.

To finish this long message to our readers, I highlight the sharp-witted interview with geneticist João Lúcio de Azevedo, conducted by our head editor, Neldson Marcolin, and by our technology editor, Marcos de Oliveira. Regarded by his peers as the Brazilian researcher who best understands the genetics of agricultural microorganisms, he tells us in easy, clear prose that he is highly amused by people’s ignorance of fungi and bacteria and their unjustified fear of them, which is due to this ignorance. After all, he notes, “only one percent of microorganisms cause problems.” Which is an excellent piece of information, especially when one learns that there are far more bacteria than cells in every plant – in the same way as each human body is home to a number of microorganisms that far outnumbers its cells. To simplify matters and put a number on this, there are about 100 thousand bacteria per gram of plant found in multicellular vegetables, João Lúcio de Azevedo assures us.

Enjoy your reading!