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Letter from the Editor | 241

Getting to the crux of the problem

The occurrence of seemingly abnormal numbers of microcephaly cases in newborns, detected since the second half of 2015, along with their association with the Zika virus, has led to the frenzied quest by physicians, researchers and health officials to understand what was happening.  While they drew up lines of research, scientists from various specialties who had begun to analyze available data found themselves faced with yet another difficulty:  there was no sufficient epidemiological information available to permit a comparison of the number of occurrences before and after microcephaly notification became mandatory.

Without knowing the actual situation before the virus came into Brazil, it is difficult to know if the number of microcephaly cases is in fact increasing.  And if so, how much of an increase has there been and what proportion of it is due to the virus?  Without this information, there is room for speculation.  Besides the lack of data on which to base comparisons, the criteria for defining microcephaly were changed in early December 2015, and some studies suggest that growth curves more suitable to the Brazilian population be used as parameters.  This issue’s cover story seeks to provide information by compiling and analyzing all that is currently known about the subject.

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A survey conducted by 575 botanists from Brazil and other countries has found that Brazil is the country with the world’s greatest diversity of plants, algae and fungi, currently tallied at 46,097 species.  The study presents details of the second version of the List of Species of the Brazilian Flora published in December 2015 – the first was compiled in 2010. Additional lists will be published in the future because about 250 new species are described and published in scientific journals every year.  The characteristics of the plants are beginning to be recorded in the Flora do Brasil Online database, expected to be completed by 2020 as part of World Flora Online, a repository of data on all of the world’s known plant species.  There is a tremendous amount of work yet to be done.  For example, the state of Amazonas ranks third in diversity among the states, after Minas Gerais and Bahia.  The explanation is simple: there were fewer collections there than in the other states researchers know better and visit more.

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In January 2016, São Paulo State University (Unesp) in inland São Paulo celebrated 40 years as a reference center for knowledge production and public higher education with its 24 campuses spread across the state. In 1976, the year that the schools that would form the university were conjoined, there were 14 campuses and a focus on research and teaching. The decade of the 2000s saw a leap in scientific production and the quality of graduate studies, followed by increased investment in overhauling faculty, with the hiring of more than 1,000 new professors. Starting with this issue, Pesquisa FAPESP will offer a series of articles about the trajectory of a university that discovered how to transform itself in the search for excellence.

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Studies by pathologist Paulo Saldiva on the effects of urban pollution and his proposals for improving the quality of life merit consideration.  The interview he granted presents some ideas for making cities healthier. Good reading.