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Light and Dark Matters

Mushrooms have long peopled children’s imagination. Whether they are more colorful or less so, they can, as in fairytales, be very large and house fairies and gnomes, as some lively children reminded me. Furthermore, when they are luminous, they told me, they can work like attractive lamps in anthills, as one can see in the animated movie Vida de Inseto (A Bug’s Life). Of course, mushrooms have also fuelled youthful dreams, lysergic deliriums of light, in those decades that had an inclination toward radical perceptual experiences. However, it is really to A Bug’s Life fantasy that the cover feature of this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP leads us, right from the first lines of the text, which tell us with charm about the good results of the research on bioluminescent mushrooms that has been under way for almost a decade and is being conducted by a team from USP. Such dedication led them to the discovery, from 2002 to 2007, of 12 of the 71 species of luminescent mushrooms identified to date, worldwide. This is no mean feat. Beyond merely finding mushrooms, Cassius Stevani and his team are dedicated to understanding the chemical mechanisms that give rise to the light of such fungi. In their quest, they have already come up with one potentially practical use for the mushrooms: detecting metal contamination of the soil. All of this is narrated in detail by our assistant science editor, Maria Guimarães, starting on page 14.

In the process of free association to which we have become accustomed thanks to Freud’s powerful influence on twentieth century culture, the aforementioned hallucinogenic mushrooms naturally lead to this issue’s text on marijuana ‘ or, better said, on the alleged pharmacological reasons put forth by different groups of scientists for marijuana to have its medical use accepted in Brazil. I am referring to the courageous interview with Elisaldo Carlini, aged 79, by our chief editor, Neldson Marcolin, and our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto. Carlini explains in scientific and historical terms why, in his opinion, the country should stop demonizing marijuana and admit the positive side of Cannabis sativa. Carlini, who, incidentally, is against the use of any recreational drugs, has been obsessively researching the effect of Cannabis on the human organism for 50 years, hence the authority and tranquility with which he talks about this issue and the prejudices that surround Cannabis, starting on page 8. It is prose with a special flavor, which one should not miss.

The science section will take up some more space in this editorial because is it indispensable to highlight the article about the participation of Brazilians in the series of international experiments (some already under way, others due to start in upcoming years) designed to uncover what is dark energy, and what is the dark matter that, apparently, accounts for 96% of the Universe. These two types of, let us say, elements, discovered in the last 80 years, are still so intriguing, notwithstanding all the theoretical and experimental research about them, that it does not strike one as peculiar that people can still say about dark energy, in relation to dark matter, that “we don’t quite know what it is, but it somehow affects another thing about which we know nothing”, in the words of the article’s author, our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto (page 52).

The highlight in the scientific and technological policy section is the article on the Paulista Center of Bioenergy Research (page 26), the fruit of a cooperation agreement signed by the state government, the three São Paulo state universities and FAPESP on the last day of 2009. As editor Fabrício Marques tells us, this initiative aims to establish a strong scientific base for the expansion of the international competitiveness of the research conducted in São Paulo state and in Brazil on the subject of energy obtained from biomass.

When it comes to technology, two articles combined, both by assistant editor Dinorah Ereno, show, starting on page 84, how the São Paulo tiling industry has achieved quality, thanks to process innovations and special enamels and how the partnership of industry and research centers in this segment of ceramics has led to much lower product losses, along with products that are getting better and better. To show the impact of technological research upon this sector, Dinorah, after talking to the Santa Gertrudes floor and wall tile company, visited Pedreira, a town in which one can feel the influence of the Ceramic Center, which is one of the Cepids (Centers of Research, Innovation and Dissemination) supported by FAPESP.

In conclusion, I would like to draw our readers’ attention to the article that opens the Humanities section (page 94). Here, editor Carlos Haag discusses a research project in which the researchers try to uncover the literary creation process of Mário de Andrade, based on the latter’s own manuscripts and his correspondence. As a gift to our readers, this small quote that opens the article, in which the writer talks about his creative process: “This ran through the month of April. I took the blank pages at the end of a notebook and, in the manicured lettering of the calm beginnings of a book, started to write. However soon the handwriting became hasty, speedy, illegible to others, magically spelt phrases that stopped in the middle…? Wonderful, isn’t it?