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Letter from the editor | 85

Passages aboard knowledge

“In the days that animals used to speak…” Up to not such a distant time ago, there were countless children stories for children beginning with these words. And like some kind of magic, as soon as they were read or heard, they would open the doors for unforgettable journeys through a fantastic world. Echoes of these first and intense feelings of pleasure brought about by literary fantasy surely resonate in the memory of every reader who throughout life is impassioned at each encounter with a magnificent text of fiction. It may be taken in different ways, for example, like a gratifying esthetic experience or an exercise that prompts reflections on the human condition, but the reading of fiction never ceases to be the place, par excellence, for the great adventures of the imagination. What is however extraordinary, is when, not a fictional text, but a report with its origins in science, with its purpose of revealing what is real, takes us back to the emotions of that magic universe explored back in our childhood with the help of fairy tales. In a very special form, it is then that one reconquers one of the possible senses of the great pleasure of knowledge.

All this has to do with the fine cover story of this issue, about the language of the wooly spider monkeys, found in a stretch of the Atlantic Rain Forest. In the article, starting on page 34, editor Carlos Fioravanti reports on the instigating discoveries of a group of São Paulo researchers into the capacity of these primates for recombining 14 different audible elements that come close to vowels or consonants in human language, and, in doing so, for producing a natural language with a clear social sense. In other words: the spider monkeys can all but speak.

From near magic to a confrontation with a hard and challenging reality – scientific knowledge is also made in these passages. It is with a conflict of this nature that the story deals with, on citrus sudden death, a strange disease that has been affecting Brazilian orange groves. Identified two years ago, it has already been raised to the position of enemy number one of Brazilian citriculture, for its destructive potential. In the text, which vied with the spider monkeys for this issue’s cover, special reporter Marcos Pivetta details the symptoms and the effects of the disease, and reports on the formation of a task force that unites the Ministry of Agriculture, the government of the State of São Paulo, orange growers and researchers from public institutions and companies, in order to check the advance of the problem. He also shows what changes this sudden death can cause in the foundations of citriculture, and the broad chances for the researchers to arrive at a definitive solution for the problem, given the scientific knowledge built up in Brazil on citrus fruits and the dynamism of research in this field. After all, citriculture in Brazil has the vigor it has thanks to the uninterrupted support of research for its development – to be precise, for over seven decades.

It is also worth highlighting in this issue the special report by editor Marcos Oliveira on Embrapa, which in April completes 30 years of excellent services rendered for the development of the primary sector of the national economy. Hundreds of new varieties of seeds developed over the course of the years, numerous techniques for handling and controlling agricultural pests adapted to all the regions of the country, strains and new reproductive techniques for cattle and pigs are some of the landmarks on the journey of this public company that have resulted in generalized gains in productivity and generation of wealth for the country.

And, to conclude, it is worth pointing out the little dossier in which six specialists, with total authority to deal with the theme, not least by virtue of the public functions they exercise, analyze the relationship between education, science and development in Brazil – availing themselves of the lessons of the past to set their sights on the future. The recent changes in the federal and state public administrations make this a very timely moment for these reflections.

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