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Letter from the editor | 92

Of the indigenous and of imagination

We always imagined all the indigenous Brazilians as very primitive men, brought together in small villages made up of huts covered with straw, isolated from each other, and ready to look for a new stopping place as soon as the conditions for hunting, fishing and gathering fruit in the place where they had established themselves deteriorated. More advanced civilizations in pre-Columbian America, only those of the Mayas and the Aztecs, above the equator, and of the Incas, in the Andes. We were thus capable of traveling agape and full of envy over the vast Aztec empire, at war with the Spanish invaders under the command of Hernán Cortez, that Salvador de Madariaga, for example, would offer us in the four volumes of The Heart of the Green Stone, written some time in the 40’s of the last century. We had to set against the wealth and the splendor with which he instigated our imagination just a few legends, like the one about Iara and Mani the Indian.

The cover story of this issue, however, tells us that things did not happen exactly like that – and we can therefore abandon that ugly feeling of envy. Recent archeological discoveries in at least two different spots in the Brazilian Amazon, recounts special reporter Marcos Pivetta, starting on page 82, suggest the existence of large and refined human settlements, inhabited by thousands of people, 500 years ago or perhaps longer ago, in the Upper Xingu, north of Mato Grosso, and at the confluence of the Negro and Solimões Rivers, some 30 kilometers away from Manaus, Amazonas. These findings were reported in the issue of September 19 last of the American magazine Science and, better still, in a scientific article that has the rarity of counting amongst its authors two Kuikuro Indians from Brazil, alongside three researchers from the University of Florida and two from the National Museum, in Rio de Janeiro. It is worthwhile reading, to be sure.

Also meriting special prominence in this issue is the article on the results of the Schistosoma mansoni Genome project, which were published in a scientific article in the October issue of the British magazine Nature Genetics and announced by Governor Geraldo Alckmin, in a ceremony at the Bandeirantes Palace, the seat of the government of São Paulo, on September 15 last. The researchers responsible for this project succeeded in determining, in whole or in part, the sequences of 92% of the estimated 14,000 genes of the parasite analyzed and, by analogy with the genetic material of other organisms sequenced , they discovered the function of 45% of the genes of this worm, which infects about 10 million Brazilians. The practical consequences of this fine work should be the development of new forms of treatment against schistosomiasis, popularly know as water belly. Further on, a vaccine against the disease may arise from all this scientific effort.

Another highlight is the story about the Brazilian space program, brought to a halt since the tragic accident at the Alcântara Base on August 22, when a fire completely destroyed the third prototype of the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV), caused the death of 21 technicians, and was responsible for material damage estimated at R$ 36 million. The frailties, the advances and the impasses of the program are scrutinized in an impeccable text by the Science editor, Carlos Fioravanti. To close, we highlight the article by Fabrício Marques about the conclusions of the first nationwide survey of the alterations to Brazil’s coastal profile. Today, 40% of Brazil’s beaches are taking a drubbing from some process of erosion and are losing terrain to the sea, whilst in 10% of the coast the opposite is happening: the sand is advancing into the ocean. That is to say, the stability of the silhouette of a good part of the eight thousand kilometers of the country’s coastline is no more than a pointof reference on the school maps, as the reporter explains. Good reading!

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