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Science and sensibility

Science and sensibility

Hermaphroditism was the term used to describe the various sexual ambiguities of genetic origin that manifest themselves, for instance, in the simultaneous presence of ovaries and testicles in the same body or in genitalia that do not fit typical male and female forms. Nowadays specialists prefer to classify such patients as having sexual development disorders (SDD), partly because of the negative connotations of the words hermaphrodite and pseudo-hermaphrodite, which have perhaps got even worse recently. A respected Brazilian research group headquartered at the Clínicas Hospital (HC – Hospital das Clínicas) in São Paulo has been studying these complex biological disorders: their origin, evolution, symptoms and treatment, for 30 years. Given the time and dedication with which this team, led by Dr. Berenice Bilharinho Mendonça, has worked, the wealth of results they published in an article at the end of last year in Clinical Endocrinology is not surprising. The group, drawing on its own experience and on that of colleagues in Brazil and abroad, has managed to characterize no less than 23 SDDs and, at the same time, demonstrate, as seen in the beautiful cover article prepared by special editor Carlos Fioravanti, “how genetic defects can generate metabolic disorders that increase or reduce the production of masculine hormones and lead to the formation of masculine and feminine sexual organs, partially or completely, in a single individual.”

What is truly surprising in the work of these researchers is the fine sensibility that permeates their multidisciplinary approach to more effective treatment for SDD patients. This allows them to use various resources in medicine and psychology to take each case to the best possible outcome. Moreover, in addition to the competent detail of the scientific work, it is in this complex relationship between two human beings who are there in such asymmetric positions, a relationship so essential to the future of one of them, that Fioravanti’s story hits on right at the outset, in unforgettable dialogues between patient and doctor. It starts on page 16 and is worth reading.

This month the science section also offers readers a special gift. It is a map of the native vegetation in the state of São Paulo; it can be detached at the end of the magazine. Its publication is the result of a joint effort of the Forestry Institute (Instituto Florestal), of Pesquisa FAPESP and of the sponsors listed on the map itself. The article that goes with the map, starting on page 50, is by the science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, himself. He explains in detail how and why the fields and forests in the state of São Paulo have grown significantly for the second decade in a row and are now back to covering 17.5% of the state’s territory, an area similar to that back in the 1970s. The good news was made public on March 17 by the state government.

The technology section features an article on a brave, new and still small number of technology companies that are appearing in the country to produce antibodies, diagnostic kits and other biotechnology inputs for basic research and for the detection of human, animal and vegetable diseases. It is an important segment for vigorous growth of scientific and technological research and journalist Yuri Vasconcelos, our collaborator, explains why on page 68.

To finish, back to the beginning of the magazine, I would like to highlight the article by the science and technology policy editor, Fabrício Marques, on the results of the Latin American Convention of the Global Sustainable Bioenergy Project, held at FAPESP from March 23 to the 25. From page 28 onwards, he explains both the debates of specialists on the means of producing bioenergy in Latin America and the resolution that was passed during the convention, which emphatically confirm the potential for expansion on the continent, without putting food production, the environment or biodiversity at risk.