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Letter from the editor | 224

Farewell to an extraordinary scientist

This letter was ready and the issue practically wrapped up when we were informed of the death of Luiz Hildebrando Pereira da Silva, 86, on the evening of September 24, 2014. We then found a way to make room to honor a scientist who had, in many ways, honored and exalted Brazil itself, and record the sadness he leaves behind in all who had the privilege to know the dazzlingly intelligent and kind gentleman that he was. On p. 66 we provide more details about the life of the brilliant parasitologist.

That said, there are other great features in this issue. Brazil has more than 10,000 caves, and until now not much was known about the fauna inhabiting this great underground world. This is not surprising, given that the field of research that studies life in the bowels of the Earth’s surface, called biospeleology, is so new in Brazil that a group of local biologists drew up the first list of species living in these dark environments in the 1980s. Since then, with the caveat that there is a vast domain to be covered in order to discover the most salient features of cave-dwelling fish, arachnids, insects, snails, bats and other animals, there have been consistent improvements in the identification and description of this sometimes odd-looking fauna equipped with potentially surprising adaptive mechanisms. That is the topic of the cover story of this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP, written by editor Maria Guimarães, with photos by Léo Ramos, beginning on p. 20.

Still in the sciences, I would also like to highlight an article in this issue that begins, coincidentally, with small animals—tiny zebrafish and mice—as a basis on which to advance towards recent findings on the formation and evolution of the human heart, whose origins might be traceable, in an intriguing way, to a period surprisingly well before the appearance of man himself on Earth. We are talking of a process that began 500 million years ago, while the human species appeared only 2 million years ago. If this disturbing revelation were not enough, the study described by Special Editor Carlos Fioravanti, beginning on p. 48, proposes that the chambers of the human heart, namely the ventricles and atria (previously called auriculae), may be the result of the action of retinoic acid, which is known for its use in cosmetics. It is worth taking a look at.


It seems obvious that respected research groups at large universities can establish partnerships with large companies anywhere in the world, and that groups with more modest academic performance have found it easier to work with smaller, closer companies.  This is indeed what happens, according to a recent study by USP and Unicamp researchers who have uncovered the mechanisms and methods behind what attracts universities to companies, the subject of the report by Bruno de Pierro, assistant editor for science and technology policy, starting on p. 38.

And among the surprising—and positive—findings in this edition, I must highlight the report by Yuri Vasconcelos on a study conducted at USP that demonstrates a significant drop in one of the principal air pollutants in the São Paulo metropolitan region over the last 30 years. The pollutant, acetaldehyde, is released primarily by ethanol-powered vehicles (p. 68).

And finally, I return to the beginning of the issue (p. 30) to strongly recommend the beautiful interview with professor and film critic Jean-Claude Bernardet, by Chief Editor Neldson Marcolin and Maria Guimarães. Prof. Bernardet defends his viewpoints with remarkable coherence and courage, including offering vociferous criticism of what he sees as the aestheticization of poverty in Brazilian documentaries that totally depoliticizes it.