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Space, allergies and conscience

It is generally known that the Brazilian space program faces chronic delays and has difficulty mastering critical technologies. What is even worse is that, relative to the programs of other emerging countries, it has been clearly losing relevance. So much so that if in 1988 Brazil was important enough in terms of satellite technology to present itself to China as an ideal partner and to enter into an agreement with that country that is now 23 year old, in this field, today the relationship is asymmetric to say the least. Still, one must acknowledge the fact, as reflected in the cover story of this Pesquisa FAPESP issue, that the Brazilian space program has born fruit over the course of three decades, including the local production of materials for making propellants, metal alloys and ceramic materials. This is certainly not an unimportant finding, but what is even more important in the article in question is the initial outline of the redesigning of the Brazilian space program, which our scientific and technological policy editor, Fabrício Marques, see here. And this ranges from the probable merger of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) with the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), in order to increase investments in the program and in the upgrade of human resources. Additionally, there are plans for an intense schedule of satellite launches, using Brazilian-made rockets, if possible. The federal government plans to invest R$ 500 million a year on satellites (vs. R$332 million this year) and R$ 200 million on rockets as of 2012. Still, these figures look modest when compared to those of the other Bric countries. I recommend the reading of this report, so that each reader may reach his or her own conclusions.

In this issue, I particularly like the article that shows how Brazilian researchers, following a path opened by their European and American colleagues, are managing to connect the effects of allergies triggered by foods with certain neuropsychic responses (see here).

Though it has been known for quite some time that this elaborate – and tormenting! – cell cleaning mechanism called an allergy involves the circulatory, gastrointestinal and respiratory systems, now there is even more evidence that the endocrinal system is also involved, along with the central nervous system. However, be aware that these findings were drawn from animal models, which means one should shy away from any hasty conclusions. Even so, it is interesting to learn that the allergic mice employed in one of the studies covered in this article by our science editor, Ricardo Zorzetto, turned out to be more anxious that the non-allergic guinea pigs in the control group.

I would also like to highlight the interview with the respected French neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux (see here). Following the path he has covered since the 1960’s, Changeux, who worked with bacteria at first, has made some fundamental discoveries in the field of elementary biological regulation (the model of allosteric proteins, for example), extrapolating them to the receptors of neurotransmitters. Based on this sound theoretical and experimental basis, he has continued to pursue other findings about the brain, targeting the biological fundamentals of consciousness, in particular.

One should keep in mind that, together with this advisor, Jacques Monod, the 1965 Nobel laureate for Medicine, Changeux wrote one of the most famous articles about molecular biology in the entire history of this field: “On the nature of allosteric transitions,” which has been cited 5,889 times to date. And he constructed all of this while weaving in parallel a humanistic and philosophical background, featuring strongly in many of his science dissemination books, which always consider science within the arena of culture – but without ever failing to assert “a physicalist vision,” in his own words, based on molecular mechanisms, for the most complex brain functions. It is well worth reading his interview.