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Letter from the editor | 71

On pollution, genetics and the economy

Pesquisa FAPESP crosses the threshold of this year 2002 bringing new and not exactly glad tidings about two phenomena – that are actually linked – that with some frequency poke themselves into the conversations of the inhabitants of São Paulo: the climate and pollution of the environment. With regard to the climate: it has, in fact, changed in São Paulo, as all those who have been living in the city for over 40 years insist. As reported by the editor Carlos Fioravanti in the cover story that starts on page 28, the summer days are getting hotter and hotter, while the winter days, drier, have almost completely banished from the scenery São Paulo’s drizzle.

The average temperature is 1.3° Celsius higher than four decades ago. About pollution: the Metropolitan Area of São Paulo – the capital and the 38 neighboring municipalities – is a powerful exporting center of pollutants, to such an extent that the air laden with undesirable gases and dust can reach cities that are 100 kilometers from the capital – in lower concentrations, it is true. Worse still: if carried by strong winds, they can reach Bauru, no less than 350 kilometers away.

If, from the point of view of public health and the preservation of the environment, these are very worrying findings, from the point of view of the objectives of scientific research, they are valuable. First, they bring in new knowledge – the work focused in the article, far from sticking to the findings, details in a rich and unprecedented way the dynamics of the large scale circulation of air, that is to say, it goes into the whys and wherefores of the behavior of pollution in São Paulo. And, second, as it puts forward this knowledge, it opens up a space for the formulation of public policies to make possible a well grounded control of pollution and of its effects on society.

Anyhow, this issue of the magazine brings other results of research that do not have to be qualified on the basis of  “it is bad on the one hand, but good on the other”. They are good – period. This is the case, for example, of the article that begins on page 36, about the strategies for fighting the yellowing disease, announced in December by the researchers responsible for the project on the Functional Genome of Xylella fastidiosa.

Everything indicates that the most promising of them will be the development of genetically altered plants, to which some protein will have been added, that either will kill the bacterium and so will work like a powerful natural insecticide, or it will hamper its process of adhesion to the plant’s xylem. The first variety of genetically modified sweet orange, obtained from adult tissue, is more than just a bright promise in this direction.

In the field of genomics, though, prominence should also be given to the announcement of the project for sequencing Arabic coffee, by means of a consortium made up by Embrapa and FAPESP. The article that starts on page 56 offers a broad view of research into new clean technologies in various segments of industry, which results in making better use of the raw materials, reducing waste, and recycling industrial leftovers and products. It makes it clear that, besides the direct benefits for the environment, these technologies produce considerable savings in costs.

And talking about economy, in Humanities there should be a special mention of the story that begins on page 70, about a theme that is ambitious to the point of being compared to a sort of project on the genome of the economy. It will result in a database capable of feeding short and medium term analyses and forecasts about the results of Brazil’s entry into the global market. Enjoy the magazine.