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Prepared to keep a place in History

The centenarian Esalq gets new wind

The College of Agriculture Luiz de Queiroz (Esalq) of USP, has just turned one hundred years old. One of the oldest agricultural teaching institutions in the country, the Esalq is also a tradition in agricultural research. Today, the school continues to be a center of excellence. However, to maintain this standard, its laboratories received close to R$ 12.5 million from the Infrastructure Program, for the restoration and up-grading of the installations and the purchasing of more modern equipment.

The eight laboratories of the Genetics Department, for example, were completely re-structured. “Only this way could we give excellent working conditions to the researchers”, says professor Ricardo Antunes Azevedo, of the Genetics Biochemistry laboratory. Forty years ago when the building was constructed, the manipulation of microorganisms was very restricted. “The old structure stopped us from introducing new technology.”

Biological control
The Department of Entomology, Phytopathology and Agricultural Zoology has lived through a similar re-adaptation. Here the researchers study and develop methods of biological control of agricultural pests. To do this, they use natural agents – virus, bacteria, fungi or even insects such as flies and wasps – in order to combat the pests. The insects, called parasitoids, are produced in the laboratory in vivo, that is, raised together with the pest that is its natural enemy, and in the test tube only the parasitoid, without its host. “Without the reforms, we could not have developed the technology for the production in vitro of Trichogramma of which we are leaders in Latin America” states José Roberto Parra, a professor at the Department. The parasitoid of the genre Trichogramma attack and destroy the eggs of other insects. Its study allows for the creation of other parasitoids that attack various cultures such as cotton, sugar cane, corn and tomato.

Various other departments of Esalq benefited from the resources of the Infrastructure Program such as that of the Soils and Plant Nutrition and the Epidemiology of Plant Illnesses.

Microscopic support

Though integrated to the complex of the College of Agriculture Luiz de Queiroz (Esalq) of USP, the Research Support Center in Electron Microscopy, Applied to Farming Research (NAP/Mepa) gives support not only to the researchers of the various departments of the school, but also to other institutions of various Brazilian states and from the most diverse areas. Frequently the Center receives students and professors of odontology, agrarian sciences, and biomedicine and of technological areas, and it also attends the private sector. Access to the equipment is free to the researchers. “We carry out a type of free rental service. They can come here and carry out their own work” says professor Elliot Watanabe Kitajima, the coordinator of NAP/Mepa. The center estimates that the use of its equipment has already allowed for the development of at least 300 research projects.

Founded in 1990, the Center initially received resources from the World Bank (BID) to purchase part of the necessary equipment. In 1995, resources from FAPESP for the purchase of accessories and some other pieces of equipment, allowed them to initiate their activities. Afterwards, resources from the Infrastructure Program were used for improvements in the infrastructure of the laboratory and in the purchase of more new equipment. One piece of equipment was an electron scanning microscope of variable pressure – the Center already had two electron microscopes, one of transmission and the other a conventional scanning model.

In spite of working in different areas of knowledge, the users of the NAP/Mepa have something in common: they work with material of proportions so reduced that it cannot be observed on an optical microscope, such as, for example, lipid fats and fragments of cells, explains professor Kitajima. The scanning microscope is destined for the examination of surfaces. The transmission electron microscope allows for the observation of samples in suspension or extremely fine cut sections. With the Infra reserves, an ultramicrotron was purchased in order to prepare the samples. The apparatus cuts ultra fine sections: 1/20,000 of a millimeter, something like cutting a piece of length 1mm into 20,000 slices. Another device acquired with the resources of the Infrastructure Program was that of a cryofracture, which allows for the freezing of biological material at cryogenic temperatures (with liquid nitrogen) and afterwards fracturing it. Molds of the fractured surfaces can be made and observed in the transmission microscope.