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Inside the brain

Special editor, Marcos Pivetta, was working on a relatively simple report when he came across some information that had all the makings of being something more than internal material for Pesquisa FAPESP. In trying to get some facts about the human brain bank from the University of São Paulo’s School of Medicine he learned that a team of Brazilian and German researchers were about to publish an article identifyying a new region in the brain where the first lesions that cause Alzheimer’s disease appear .Instead of in the cortex, as was thought, the lesions first occur in the dorsal raphe nucleus in the brain stem. They arrived at this conclusion after carrying out autopsies on 118 people, whose average age was 75. This is the most common neurodegenerative disease in the elderly and the discovery may mean that this region of the nervous system may become the preferred target for new therapy activity. From this it was a short step to concluding that the report deserved to be the magazine’s cover feature (page 16).

The first strain of embryonic stem cells was another cover option. The announcement occurred when the last edition was on the way to the printers and we didn’t have enough time to publish anything other than a note in the Laboratory section. So we proposed explaining in detail how this technology occurred and what it means for research in Brazil. Assistant science editor, Maria Guimarães, was more than up to the task (page 42).

In the technology department there are other advances worthy of note. São Carlos was the city chosen to set up a new microchip plant in 2009. Not just any microchip, but the one used in public transport tickets, cell phones, digital TVs and banking transactions. The best thing is that this is not just a question of production. One of the eleven Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (Cepid) funded by FAPESP, the Multidisciplinary Center for the Development of Ceramic Materials (CMDMC), will be a partner in the venture by the North American company that is putting up the money. The center will actively participate in the study and development of new memories, called ferroelectric. The model that is being looked for is one of the most sought after: new technology-driven industrial production that is fed in turn by basic research. To place the undertaking on a sound footing the company will have the collaboration of the CMDMC, which has helped prepare 25 PhDs and 17 Masters in ferroelectric materials (the raw material of electronic memory) since 2000.

In humanities, editor Carlos Haag presents a major study that measured the degree of Brazilian’s confidence in the country’s democratic institutions. The data is interesting: valuing democracy grew by 21 percentage points between 1989, the first direct elections, and 2006, the most recent presidential election (from 43.6% to 64.8%). But at the same time the number of citizens incapable of defining what democracy is fell by more than 13 percentage points (from 38.6% to 25.5%). More data: according to the study some 30% of the electors believe that democracy can function perfectly well without Congress or political parties, a worrying sign for the parties and for the Legislature.

Finally there is an interview with former president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso. This time he says nothing about politics; his focus is the environment, something familiar to the person who knew some of the main personalities who have an influence on the subject today. He also played an active role in the long discussions about the Kyoto Protocol between 1997 and 1999, which established greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. It’s worth getting to know the stories and opinions of the former president on a subject that is so much discussed today.