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The necessary balance

This issue’s cover story is a topic which, in principle everybody is familiar with. More specifically, the topic is the importance of a balanced diet for pregnant mothers and babies so that babies can grow to be strong and healthy. The obvious nature of this topic, however, is merely apparent. It is common knowledge that newborn babies raised only on their mothers’ milk for the first six months of their lives – and whose mothers follow a proper nutritional diet during pregnancy – have a good chance of being less susceptible to diseases. An unknown fact that has recently been revealed by researchers who worked on population studies in developing countries is that there is a specific period during which parents have to take action to lower the risk of transforming their babies into obese adults. This space of time is referred to as the one thousand days of opportunity; it corresponds to the 270 days of pregnancy plus the 730 days that are equivalent to the first two years of a child-s life, during which diet-related issues must be constantly monitored. The article, written by science editor Ricardo Zorzetto.

A more sensitive topic is focused on by Fabrício Marques, editor of scientific and technological policy. He reports on the battle between the Ministry of the Environment and scientists who depend on samples collected from nature to conduct their research work. Each sample-collection project needs special authorization, which, in some cases, can take years to be granted. The reasons for the ministry’s attitude in this respect are of a legal nature, as the task of the ministry is to prevent Brazilian biodiversity from being smuggled out of the country. However, excessively rigid bureaucracy hampers lines of research throughout the entire country, even though the environmental authorities have promised to implement less stringent requirements. Researchers who decide not to wait for the excessively long period of time it takes to get the authorization, or those who fail to strictly comply with the requirements, are subject to heavy fines that frequently add up to millions of reals.

The technology section brings good news: the University of São Paulo’s Physics Institute already has a new particle accelerator in operating conditions, reports technology editor Marcos de Oliveira. Initial tests conducted on the microtron, which accelerates electrons almost to the speed of light, started in August. The equipment was designed and built by Brazilian researchers. The equipment will be used for basic and medical research, such as studies on the interaction between radiation and the human body. Still in the field of technology, we would like to draw attention to a new biotechnological tool, which will allow markers to be used to identify animals – more specifically, cattle – with a genetic pre-disposition to produce more tender meat, as reported in the article by Evanildo da Silveira. The importance of this tool becomes even more evident, given that Brazil has the second largest cattle herd in the world – India ranks first in this respect – and is the second biggest producer of beef, after the United States.

The relationship between Brazil and automobiles is the topic of the article written by Carlos Haag, editor of the humanities section. He reports that for many decades the automobile was viewed as the engine that drove national progress and was a source of power and hierarchy. According to the researchers interviewed for this article, even though the automobile was a consumer product accessible to a tiny part of the Brazilian population, the automobile drew the attention of government authorities and huge slices of the national budget were allocated to build streets and highways. This attitude still produces effects, as seen by the frequently uncivilized behavior observed in the traffic in Brazilian cities, a result of the fact that all drivers see themselves as being far superior to pedestrians simply because they are sitting behind a steering wheel.