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Letter from the editor | 109

The necessary relativity of the figures

A few years ago, a group of researchers from InCor, the Heart Institute of the University of São Paulo, found itself faced by a morbid charade: 51 people had died as a result, in the last instance, of arteriosclerosis – or, in more down-to-earth language, of obstruction of their coronaries, responsible for transporting nutrients and oxygen to the heart, by fat deposits. The deposits kept on accumulating on the wall of the arteries, to the point of prompting heart attacks, cerebral vascular accident, and other like dramatic states. It so happens that 25 of these people in whom the evolution of the disease was being accompanied by the researcher, almost half of them, therefore, showed cholesterol levels regarded as normal. How to understand, then, this arteriosclerosis that resulted in deaths, if it is exactly the excessive presence of cholesterol in the blood, more precisely LDL, the bad cholesterol, that is a sign indicative of someone who was running a risk of showing the problem? And if normal levels are the cue for relaxing?

The cover story of this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP shows precisely how, from enigmas like this, research into organic indicators of coronary diseases has made substantial headway at InCor.  It is not just the level of HDL that is important, but the mathematical ratio between HDL and LDL, that is, between the good cholesterol and the bad, the levels of homocystine, the levels of triglycerides, etc. etc. As in almost all the fields, in the human body too, it is rare for one indicator to work on its own with its absolute values. Relation and interaction are key words in determining the health of the arteries and of the heart, as can be checked in the text by reporter Alessandra Pereira, from page 44 onwards.

There is, incidentally, a warning on what is, in a certain way, the same issue, in the article on the increasingly heated duel between those who believe and those who doubt that the gases from automobiles and from industry are responsible for the progressive heating up of our planet. Even if the warming really does exist, the skeptics would say. Taking, for example, the data on the temperature of the Earth at their absolute values, without relativizing them, without contrasting some actual reductions with the increases found, may induce serious and scientifically counterproductive error about the warming phenomenon, one gathers from the narrative of special editor Fabrício Marques, which begins on page 30. It sets off from a book of fiction recently launched in the United States, State of Fear, which is throwing fuel on the quarrel between environmentalists and skeptics, to show which are the more consistent arguments of the two sides, at the moment when the Kyoto Protocol comes into force.

Nothing better to cool down one’s head in a playful way than to dive into Antarctica and into the freezing adventures of researcher Jefferson Cardia Simões, in the vision of one for whom the vast white territory on the southern cap of the planet is more important for Brazil than for the United States. He explains why, from page 12 onwards, in the instigating interview granted to special editor Marcos Pivetta.

Also worth highlighting in this issue is the article by the science editor Carlos Fioravanti, beginning on page 24, on the first scientific article signed by the body of researchers from Alellyx, in the respected scientific periodical Journal of Virology. The private sector biotechnology company, which has its roots planted in FAPESP’s Genome Program, shows there the genetic and molecular characterization of a virus that the team regards as a strong candidate to causal agent of citrus sudden death, a disease that has already installed itself in some 2 million orange trees in São Paulo and Minas Gerais. To wrap it up, stressed car drivers will certainly find immensurable merits in the work of the researchers who believe that it is possible to bring order to the chaos of the traffic in the metropolises with the help of artificial intelligence, from page 90 onwards. And, better still, taking into account the personalities of the folks behind the steering wheels, who, in Brazil, are not exactly the same as those, for example, in Germany.  Good reading!