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The next ten years

Researchers prepare strategies for the future of the Programa Biota-FAPESP program

MIGUEL BOYAYANAt an event that celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Programa de Pesquisas em Caracterização, Conservação, Recuperação e Uso Sustentável da Biodiversidade do Estado de São Paulo/Biota-FAPESP program, approximately 300 researchers came together to attend a workshop in São Paulo with the purpose of discussing strategies for the next ten years. Divided into groups, the participants outlined themes that deserve complementary studies, such as the improvement of the inventories on biological wealth, with the inclusion of new molecular biology and genome techniques, the expansion of studies on marine diversity or the creation of an education area able to produce learning material for elementary and secondary schools. “The progress in terms of knowledge about the biodiversity of algae, for example, lacks investment in studies that include molecular biology. Without this data, our papers will not qualify for publication in international publications”, says Carlos Alfredo Joly, coordinator of the program and a professor at the Biology Institute of the State University of Campinas/Unicamp.

The proposals prepared by the work groups will be evaluated by the coordinators of the program and the points in common will be included in a document that establishes the programs strategies, goals and objectives for the next decade. Launched in 1999, Biota-­-FAPESP was responsible for pioneer mapping of São Paulo State’s biodiversity. So far, the program has produced 84 research projects and generated advances in terms of knowledge, such as the identification of 1,760 species (1,109 microorganisms, 564 invertebrates and 93 vertebrates), in addition to the publication of more than 700 scientific articles, 20 books and two atlases. In the field of human resources training, the program granted 169 master’s degrees, 108 doctorate degrees and 79 post-doctorate degrees. In ten years, FAPESP invested R$ 82 million in the program.

One of the consensuses reached by the workshop was the need to expand the international exposure of the Biota program’s achievements. One of the goals is to increase the number of publications in leading journals and encourage the exchange of researchers and visiting professors and participation in events abroad. “We need to be more involved in the international arena, both in the academic field and in discussions on conservation policies and the sustainable use of biodiversity. This should be accomplished by means of partnerships, exchanges and participation in international organization committees”, says Joly.

Another point of convergence was the need to foster research in information technology for biodiversity, with the objective of creating new computer analysis tools able to expand the knowledge generated by field data collected by researchers, by adding, for example, interface with climate change models. The re-designing of the Sistema de Informação Ambiental do Biota/SinBiota Environmental Information System, which gathers data collected by researchers, was strongly suggested by Ricardo Ribeiro Rodrigues, full professor at the University of São Paulo/USP’s Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz/Esalq school of agriculture, who coordinated the program from 2004 to 2008. “The creation of a new data gathering protocol that will allow for the restructuring of this data base is one of the issues that we must start to address firmly”, said Rodrigues. According to data presented by Carlos Joly, the field of computer science presented few projects, and consequently was one of the areas to which the least amount of direct investments was allocated by the Programa Biota. “We will only be able to make the SinBiota more sophisticated if we pursue partnerships with the field of information technology. So far, we have not been able to motivate computer science researchers to submit projects to the program”, he stated. The ideas presented at the workshop included the integration of the Biota to the KyaTera network, of FAPESP’s Programa Tecnologia da Informação no Desenvolvimento da Internet Avançada/Tidia, Infotech Program, to facilitate collaborations and data exchange.

Value – Botany professor Marcos Buckeridge, from USP, also emphasized the need to attract researchers from the info tech field, and other professionals as well. “We need mathematicians, engineers, and economists as well”, he stated. In his opinion, it is also necessary to focus on research in fields that make it possible to establish an economic value for water and biodiversity resources. “It will be impossible to charge for the use of these resources if no value is established for them”, he stated. Leader of theme projects under Biota and currently working on the Bioenergy Program/ Bioen, Buckeridge suggested the creation of an Interprogram Committee to invest in the crossover points in FAPESP’s initiatives. The group in charge of discussing the link between the program and education suggested the creation of the Espaço Biota Educação facility, an attractive environment for students, with data collected by the program. “We are referring to education in the broad sense – the idea is to produce material that can be used in elementary and secondary education and in divulging information to society in general”, said Carlos Joly. “Many times the science teacher uses examples of the fauna and flora of other countries because he cannot find organized material on local ecosystems”, he added.

Neglected diseases. The transformation of the generated knowledge into commercial products, considered as being one of the weak points of the Biota’s first decade, should be encouraged by means of a set of strategies. “The consensus is that the Biota is the best venue to talk about bio-prospecting”, says Vanderlan da Silva Bolzani, from the Chemistry Institute of Araraquara of the Paulista State University/Unesp and coordinator of the Rede Biota de Bioprospecção e Ensaios/BIOprospecTA bio-prospecting and essays network. She emphasized the importance of prioritizing the search for plant medicines, in order to supply the Sistema Único de Saúde, the Brazilian National Health System, and research on pharmaceutical products for neglected diseases, the ones that inspire very little attention from industries because they affect poor countries. Finally, the group responsible for discussing strategies for the transfer of knowledge to the government suggested that new projects, when being prepared, include their results, in order to support public policies. This was the case, for example, of the resolution of the State Secretary’s Office of the Environment/SMA, according to which the analysis of all the requests for the use of areas covered by native forests should be based on a scale of categories for the recovery of such forests defined in a map produced by the program. The group made a bold request. It suggested that a Biota ambassador be contracted – an expert prepared to take on a political role, able to identify society’s demands and establish partnerships with other states and with the federal government, and with monitoring and licensing agencies.