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Letter from the editor | 59

The new sugarcane cycle

Sugarcane has been one of the main sources of wealth in Brazil for five centuries. Brought by the Portuguese from the Island of Madeira in 1502, it adapted perfectly to the local soil and climate. Now, at the turn of the century, Brazilian science is ready to make this crop still better. The Sugarcane Genome – the first sequencing of a plant to be done in Brazil – is entering its final stages, thanks, largely, to the experience of the team and to the available equipment. Of the 32 laboratories that began the task, 23 had taken part in the Xylella Genome, the pioneering project that sequenced the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium, which called the attention of the international scientific community on Brazilian research.

The 240 researchers, from 60 laboratories, have identified around 80,000 sugarcane genes. Now we know exactly how the plant lives, reproduces, and dies. Within two years, this mapping will allow laboratories to produce the first varieties of the plant resistant to two pests: the Leifsonia xyli bacterium and the Coal Mildew (o fungo-do-carvão). The work has been so good that the Sugarcane Genome project is expected to end almost a year before the planned date, and to cost 50% less that US$ 8 million approved by FAPESP. The story of another high spot for Brazilian researchers is the subject of the cover story of Pesquisa FAPESP magazine, told in detail by our Science editor, Carlos Fioravanti.

November was full of good news. On page 14, there is an article on the post-doctoral revolution that FAPESP has set in train. The new policy extends the length of time for which post-doctoral grants are available in this country and reformulates the interchange with research centers abroad. The main objective is to make working conditions more attractive for young doctors in the São Paulo research system, while at the same time ensuring their training abroad, in training periods coupled with the development of research projects in the State. This new policy may well have a significant impact against the brain drain to overseas research centers.

There are other articles reporting on good news. The technology section describes an optical fiber catheter that uses lasers beams, created by the Research and Development Institute of the Vale do Paraíba University (Univap). It will have important scientific applications in identifying and repairing blocked arteries and removing certain types of tumor. Done jointly with the company Tecnobio, the work is the result of a solid partnership between the university and the company.

There is a surprise on page 54: why do powerful car manufacturers in the ABC region become agitated when a flight of dragonflies flies over lots packed with cars? Research by the Biochemistry Department of the Chemistry Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP) has shown that these insects are not as innocent as they seem. In confusing the cars’ shiny hoods with a sheet of limpid water, the dragonflies lay their eggs on the body, and these react with the high temperatures and produce acid. The result, the paintwork of brand-new cars that have not even been sold yet, is irreparably damaged.

Do not fail to read the interview on page 36 with the physicist José Leite Lopes. It is a good chance to learn about the 82 year-old veteran scientist’s scientific work