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Life and death

One topic of frequent animated discussion in the Pesquisa FAPESP newsroom is obituaries. Some are not too fond of this branch of journalism, seeing it as a bit morbid; for others, it is a celebration of life and an opportunity to learn more about inspiring people.

As an advocate of the latter, upon reading the obituary of UNESP linguist Maria Helena de Moura Neves (page 86), I was fascinated by her story and frustrated that we never interviewed this researcher who started her academic career later than most but went on to have a prolific and productive career that lasted more than 50 years.

In 2015, we had the pleasure of interviewing Magda Becker Soares, an educator from UFMG who recently passed away on January 1 (page 88). Bruno de Pierro, author of the interview, recalled on social media that the researcher, then 83 years old, offered him whiskey during their conversation.

Brazilian science is done by people like Maria Helena Neves and Magda Becker, but it could not exist without a national science and technology system composed of institutions, resources, public policies, and infrastructure. After a period of successive budget cuts and constraints, the freezing of grants and scholarships, and the devaluation of academic careers, signs of recovery are emerging, as described by political editor Fabrício Marques in this issue’s cover story (page 16). Many academics argue that now is the time to rethink the system, rather than simply rebuilding what existed before and has since been dismantled or discontinued.

With the right conditions and the time science demands, significant results can be achieved. One example is the dengue vaccine developed by the Butantan Institute, the result of more than a decade of work and R$300 million of investment. Known as Butantan-DV, the vaccine is the subject of the largest clinical trial for a vaccine ever carried out in Brazil by Brazilian researchers, with 16,235 volunteers.

Currently in the final phase of testing, which is expected to be completed next year, Butantan-DV has so far led to an 89.5% reduction in the development of dengue caused by virus serotype 1 and 69.6% for serotype 2—there are two other varieties that have not circulated in the country in recent years. There are currently two commercial dengue vaccines on the market, a French one that is used in Brazil and the other made by the Japanese (page 50).

At a time when all eyes are on the Amazon when it comes to climate change, biologist Mercedes Bustamante is drawing attention to the worsening situation of the neighboring biome, the Cerrado (a wooded savanna), which is suffering from increasing deforestation. In an interview given to editors Carlos Fioravanti and Ricardo Zorzetto shortly before she was named the new president of CAPES, Bustamente highlighted that the rivers that supply 8 of Brazil’s 12 hydrographic regions originate in the Cerrado (page 24). The agency recently released its quadrennial report on master’s and doctoral programs in the country, a year later than originally planned (page 30). One-third of the assessed courses improved their score, a result that may have been influenced by changes in the classification model.