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Letter from the editor | 139

Measuring the poison

Last August 22, psychiatrist Ronaldo Laranjeira,  head professor at Unifesp, the Federal University of São Paulo, presented the results of the broadest study on the consumption of alcoholic beverages ever done in Brazil at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia. Thanks to this work, we have now learnt that about half of the country’s adult population, or more precisely 48% of those who are over 17, consists of teetotalers, whereas 25% consume alcoholic beverages more than once a week. Within this group, more than five million consume levels of alcohol that are regarded as bad for health, as our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, explains, starting on page 42. As for those who are alcohol-dependent, whether they drink a lot or a little, he clarifies, they amount to some 12 million people. All this data came from a study of  3,007 people aged over 13, in urban and rural areas of 147 towns spread over  five Brazilian regions. This research was carried out from November 2005 to April 2006 by people trained by Laranjeira and his team. Strictly speaking, 30 years of accrued research on the effects of the abuse of alcohol and other drugs have given the São Paulo researcher an extremely sound basis to conduct this sort of study, providing consistent input for the Brazilian government in its campaign against alcohol abuse in this country. The article that became the cover feature of this Pesquisa FAPESP edition, however, is not limited to Laranjeira’s work. It also shows the results of other studies conducted by renowned researchers in this field and, thanks to the interpretation prepared by the latter, brings us a new, rich and well contextualized overview of the world of alcohol consumption patterns amongst us.

It is also worth highlighting, among the articles from the magazine’s science sector, the inspired text of special editor Carlos Fioravanti, starting on page 50, which indirectly honors the much maligned rattlesnake, an animal that has contributed to the development of science in Brazil. He shows that crotamine, a small protein in the venom of the snake in question, can penetrate cell membranes and carry DNA or other molecules into the interior and even into the nucleus of cells that are undergoing a multiplication process. Thus, it can be used in the diagnosis of illnesses, to transport drugs and even to destroy tumors, to judge from the most recent experiments. Nothing could be further removed from a malign power than that.

I will allow myself to linger a little longer than usual in the science section, to comment on an excellent and intriguing article that I really was not sure about – and as you will see, it turns out I was totally wrong. Prepared by journalist Francisco Bicudo, one of our contributors, it deals with studies that are producing major forensic entomology development in Brazil and thus strongly aiding the clarification of crimes and mysterious deaths. Strictly speaking, researchers in this field are expanding  their knowledge concerning the different kinds of insects found in and around corpses, which can provide information about the cause of and time elapsed since death. The article, far from being morbid, opens in a tone reminiscent of good thrillers, encouraging the reader to continue to the end, although the subject may strike one as rather distressing. Moreover, those who reach the end will become certain that here is a field of inestimable public interest in a world so shaken by violence.

Given that this is a magazine with texts organized into four editorial segments or sections, including the science one, on which I have already spent all of this letter’s space allocation, I must at least recommend in just a few lines the articles that are worthy of note in the other sections. Therefore, regarding scientific and technological policy, besides the report from Claudia Izique, the area’s editor, about Brazilian firms’ ignorance of the availability of credit and development mechanisms to support technological progress, a lack of information that poses a major obstacle to the advance of innovation in this country, one should also highlight a small text by special editor Fabrício Marques on the institutionalization of the Biota-FAPESP program.

Where technology is concerned, the revolution driven by LEDs, the light emitting diodes with which São Carlos researchers are developing a range of objects, from new blackout-proof traffic lights to a device that replaces lasers in skin cancer treatments, brings us an unmissable report by Yuri Vasconcelos, starting on page 68. Finally, the article by our humanities editor, Carlos Haag, is also worthy of note; it discusses regulating agencies such as Anac (the National Civil Aviation Agency), Anatel (the National Telecommunications Agency) and Anvisa (the National Sanitary Supervision Agency),  brought into the limelight of national political debate by the sorry tragedy involving TAM’s Airbus.