The modernization of the Butantan Institute laboratories has already begun to produce its first fruits. Research took off at a pace which surprised even the researchers and the preparation of scientific papers for publication is also more accelerated. For example, the Phycology Laboratory has already brought together 3,500 samples of algae from both fresh and salty water, collected during four decades of dedication. The researcher, Carlos Bicudo, who is coordinating the Biota-FAPESP Program, the surveying of the algae species that occur in the State of São Paulo, is excited and categorically states “We have produced more in the last two years than in the forty years before.” With better working conditions and more modern equipment, the results are appearing. The first of the 13 volumes about the algae fauna of the State is ready to be published. “Research is now going forward just like a production line” says Bicudo.
It was not always this way. Created in 1938 with the objective of developing research in the area of botany to serve the environmental policy of the State and maintained by the State Secretary of the Environment, the 18 buildings of the institute, which house laboratories, herbariums, a pollen storage room, wood sample racks and the Botanical Garden Museum, were built in the 60’s and 70’s and for over twenty years had not received any investment in their infrastructure.
The support of FAPESP, with a sum of around R$ 2.2 million, made possible the recovery of the research infrastructure, which had deteriorated after years of adaptations, as had occurred to the Phycology laboratory building. Constructed to house a herbarium, nothing in it was suited to the study of algae. In other laboratories, the humidity provoked by drips and leaks had generated a proliferation of undesirable fungi on the walls, such as those in the Mycology laboratory where the researcher Dr. Adauto Ivo Milanez, who had directed the institute from 1995 until 1999, had worked. It was a constant contamination threat for other fungi and cultures with specific destinations. In the pollen sector the research with pollen had also been jeopardized. Rusted, the window frames didn’t seal adequately and the pollen of the trees around the institute would invade the laboratory at the time of their flowering and contaminate the samples.
The resources from the Infrastructure Program were used to renovate the working environments, to replace the water and electricity lines, laboratory installations and equipment. One didn’t need to wait too long for results, both in the quantity and the quality of the work produced. Maria Amélia Vitorino da Cruz Barros, chief of the Dicotyledon section, of the Phytotaxonomy Division, is enthusiastic. The laboratory bought four new microscopes, three common and one photonic, coupled to a camera and a printer. “The photonic microscope revolutionized our work.” The light beam of this microscope makes cuts which allow us to visualize and to measure exactly the structures of the layers of pollen whose grains can be as small as 2 micrometers in diameter. Connected to other information technology software, the device accelerates the preparation of scientific articles. “A piece of work that previously took three months to prepare is now done in only a month”, says Maria Amélia. By allowing for the identification of specific vegetation, the pollen study is having a huge application in programs on environmental preservation. Starting from the collection of ground samples in the devastated regions, the researchers can identify the species that grew in the location and even obtain, through deduction, data on the climate, rainfall, and indicate the animals that inhabited the region.
In the Plant Physiology and Biochemistry Laboratory, the five new fume cupboards (before there were two) and the conditions for the storage of reagents and organic solvents, have resulted in an increase in safety. Air conditioned, the culture rooms, allow for a better appraisal of the response of the plants to stimuli that affects their development and brings on biochemical changes. For the researcher Edson Paulo Chu, without these reforms it would have been difficult for the laboratory to manage to look after the projects. In the research line with medicinal plants, a substance with an anti-cancerous activity is almost ready to be tested on animals.
Free of mustiness and of other technical obstacles, Milanez had another reason to postpone his retirement. His research with fungi has also shown promising results. A specialist in fungi from the Atlantic Rain Forest, he is now studying that of the Brazilian Cerrado (Wooded Savanna). “We would like to discover which fungi exist in the soil and what role they can play in agriculture”, he explains. Milanez believes that some species could be efficient natural agents against agricultural pests or for the recovery of contaminated soils by industrial residues and mineral exploration.
As well, Dr. Milanez underlined other positive results of the Infrastructure Program. Now the Botanical Institute has the right conditions to receive more students and there is already interest in the creation of a masters course on biodiversity.Republish