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Half a Century of a Revolution

Since the beginning of the year, books, newspapers, scientific magazines and scientific propaganda throughout the entire world have been dedicating pages and pages to the celebration of the fifty years of the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA by the researchers Francis Crick from Great Britain, and James Watson from the United States. Nothing could be fairer. Put together in the double helix model that they themselves assembled and that could be admired on the 7th of March 1953, and was explained to the international scientific community in only 939 words in an article published byNature , on the 25th of April of the same year, the discovery is considered to be a type of corner stone for molecular biology.

And, therefore, a starting point for a scientific area that is advancing in leaps and that today is extending itself into exciting zones on the frontiers of knowledge, altering previous conceptions about life and bringing to man possibilities that only a short time previously were unimaginable for the manipulation of living organisms.Pesquisa FAPESP , through this special edition, is joining with the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of magazines that at this moment are exploring the significance of the discovery by Crick and Watson, and but it does so respecting its central editorial objective, which is to demonstrate important scientific and technological research results obtained in Brazil.

Consequently, this issue deals with the original unveiling of the molecular structure of DNA, and reaches the systematic and consistent genomic research ongoing today in the country, within which one is obliged to underline the pioneering and the organizational role of FAPESP. We can observe that three decades went by between the construction of the double helix model and the development of the technology that would allow access to the interior of the molecular structure of DNA and to regions, until that moment unfathomable, of the genes.

Only during the second half of the 80s did research into the genes responsible for human illnesses begin in the more developed countries, with the first genetic sequencing projects of micro and macro organisms and the first developments of transgenic food. Taking this into consideration, Brazil did not get that far behind before putting its well-organized team into the field. In reality it was in the middle of the decade of the 90s that some researchers and those who formulate scientific and technological policy realized that something had to be done to invert a situation that scientific research had reached.

As a whole, advances in the country were at levels higher than those of world averages, whilst molecular research was growing not just below national levels in general, but inferior to international rates in the area. It was at this point that FAPESP decided to set up a genetic sequencing project of an important microorganism from the scientific and economic points of view, and at the same time, would be capable of rapidly raising the local competency in the area of molecular biology.

The first chapter of this story is calledXylella fastidiosa . And at the same time to talk about the already extensive international adventure that the double helix inaugurated and of its Brazilian chapters, in this special edition we have lined up researchers such as Rogério Meneghini, who writes a beautiful review on molecular genetics; Emmanuel Dias Neto, who looks towards the state of the art and the frontiers to be explored in this vast field; Renato Janine Ribeiro, who deals with the issues that the changes of paradigms now proposed by biology bring to human sciences; Mayana Zatz, with a short summary of the consequences of genomic research on human health and João Setubal, who also summarizes what one might expect from bioinformatics, a research area whose birth is practically as a result of the demands of molecular biology.

FAPESP?s scientific director, José Fernando Perez, opens with a preliminary balance on genomics in Brazil, the pages destined to research within the country. And to close with a toast to our readers there is delightful story by Moacyr Scliar ? all of this interspersed with the sharp humor of Claudius.

Mariluce Moura ? Editorial Director