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Reforms decentralize agronomy research

Younger institutions take their place at the side of their elders

The Agrarian and Veterinary Sciences were always a traditional area of research in São Paulo. The results of studies carried out by centenarian institutions such as the College School of Agriculture Luiz de Queiroz (Esalq) of USP, and the Agronomy Institute of Campinas (IAC), of the Department of Agriculture and Supplies of the State, modified and pushed forward the agriculture of the state and of the country throughout the twentieth century. On the other hand, younger institutions such as the School of Agrarian and Veterinary Sciences of Jaboticabal, the School of Agronomy Sciences of Botucatu and the Veterinary Medicine and Zootechnology of Botucatu, all with Unesp, decentralized the teaching and the agronomy research at the highest level and made important contributions. Nevertheless, all of them during the last decade faced serious difficulties to go on with their activities. Some lines of research had to be halted. The application of more modern methods and techniques, were unfeasible due the lack of equipment and the structural conditions of the laboratories.

The Infrastructure Program changed that scenario, with an injection of resources of the amount of R$ 44.4 million. Basic reforms such as those of electricity circuits and water system, new benches, adaptation of space, temperature and humidity control, system of air filtration, exhaust fans for toxic gases, irrigation pivots, greenhouses and hothouses, modified the working conditions. For example, in the Genetic Microorganism laboratory of Esalq, sun protected glasses were placed in 465 windows because sun exposure and the heat affected certain reactions, professor Aline Pizzirani Kleiner tells this magazine. The renovation in the research environment were complemented with the purchase of new equipment.

Visible results
The results didn’t take long to appear. The Research Center into Animal Health, an auxiliary unit of the School of Agrarian and Veterinary Sciences of Jaboticabal, had been working under precarious conditions and today is quoted as a reference in international scientific magazines. “Due to the infrastructure that was set up, we signed agreements with companies and today they guarantee our income”, explains professor Alvimar José da Costa, who is coordinating research to combat bovine cysticercosis , a sickness transmitted by a worm that can contaminate human beings.

“In the past, when the light went out, all the embryo cultures died” reports José Antonio Visintin, of the Department of Animal Reproduction of the Veterinary Medicine and Zootechnology School of USP. “Today, we are behind in nothing in comparison with the best developed research centers.” With fourfold greater space and new equipment, the department refined the research on the bovine cloning and advanced in the experiments with transgenic pigs. In the Pathology Department, for years the autopsy sector’s dead stench swept the halls. “We didn’t have a cold room and the remnants of the animals rotted in less than twenty four hours” the researcher Benjamin Malucell from the microscope sector recalls. “In the corridors it was common to find boas from Comparative Pathology research that had turned loose from the boxes, more suitable to rats, where they were kept.” These stories are in the memories of the researchers since now there is a room suitable for keeping the snakes. For its turn, the faculty’s research animal breeding unit, with new installations and equipment recently received the approval of the International Committee of Ethical Medicine to import two transgenic mice lineages, to be used in cancer research, informs the director of the faculty, Dr. José Palermo Neto.

Agronomy research also gained new thrust. At the Esalq, in Piracicaba, the eight laboratories of the Genetics Department were renovated. “Consequently, we were able to provide excellent working conditions to the researchers”, says professor Ricardo Antunes Azevedo, of the Genetic Biochemistry laboratory. The Entomology, Phytopathology and Agricultural Zoology Department of Esalq lived through similar re-adaptations. “Without the reforms, we would not have developed the technology for the production in vitro of Trichogramma, in which we are leaders in Latin America” prides José Roberto Parra, who researches the biological control of agricultural pests.

At the IAC, the Division of Soil Physics, could re-initiate their research after being reformed and receiving new equipment such as a granulometer, a laser to carry out analyses of soil samples and a new collection system for erosion losses. As well, the Rubber Tree Project of the Coffee and Tropical Plants Center, set up their first laboratories with assets from the program. Since its creation in 1992, research had been carried out on plantations. “All on the basis of looking and observing the external characteristics of the plant, the phenotype”, says Paulo Gonçalves, coordinator of the project. Now, he can follow the development of the rubber trees in the laboratory. “The impetus to the rubber tree has come over the last six years” he says, referring to the period post Infra. During 1999, the work at the IAC certainly contributed to turning the State of São Paulo into the major national producer of natural rubber with more than half of the 85,000 tones produced in the country.