About 15 years ago, when the project to sequence the entire human genome emerged as the most fascinating scientific adventure of the end of the 20th century – inspiring the ambitious dreams of teams of biologists under the spell of the antiquated idea that biology could replace physics as science’s field par excellence – Brazil had begun its pioneering incursions into genomics, which among other objectives sought to advance to a considerable degree the field of molecular biology. As many may remember, this first initiative involved the Xylella fastidiosa bacteria, and significant obstacles had to be overcome for it to succeed. One of the project’s greatest challenges was bioinformatics, as Brazil simply had no expertise in this field at the time.
By the time the project was concluded in early 2000, the source of its success undoubtedly lay in bioinformatics, then in the hands of Brazil’s first experts. Three generations of bioinformaticians have since been trained, and our junior and senior specialists today are faring very well in the international race for tools, which, among other pursuits, seek to help enable comparisons between genomes and make the sequencing process ever faster and less expensive. The cover story in this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP (page 16) by our special editor, Marcos Pivetta, reports on these tools within the context of an increasingly sophisticated national bioinformatics research capability that is today able to navigate both science and technology with ease.
From the realm where basic science, applied science and technological innovation overlap, this issue brings you the report (page 38) by special editor Carlos Fioravanti about an anti-cancer therapy that works by delivering its antitumor drug via spheres of artificial cholesterol. The formula, which required more than 20 years of research by one of the teams involved in the project, appears to reduce the drug’s toxicity and increase its effectiveness in the patient at lower doses.
And with particular regard to technology, I would like to make special mention of a report that might induce a sudden and unexpected sensation of thirst in our readers, especially on sunny days. The report, by technology editor Marcos de Oliveira, describes the process of accelerating yeast metabolism, and its resulting reduction in the time it takes to produce beer, achieved by submerging a source of LED in tanks containing the beloved beverage. One might want to take some delight in discovering the particulars of this process, and why not do so over a glass of beer (page 50)?
Finally, I suggest that our readers set aside time for our interview with Professor Erney Plessmann de Camargo, one of Brazil’s most respected parasitologists who shares many fascinating stories. In his interview with the magazine’s managing editor and science editor, Neldson Marcolin and Ricardo Zorzetto, respectively, Professor Plessman de Camargo talks about his research and the connection his scientific studies have with public health issues, relates uncertainties endured by the military government’s harsh curtailment of research institutions and, at times, the work of scientists themselves, and all the while emphasizes his obvious pleasure in doing science.
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