Daniel BuenoGonçalo Amarante Guimarães Pereira, scientific director and one of the founding partners of GranBio, a company that launched the first commercial second-generation ethanol plant in Brazil that runs on sugarcane straw, is also a professor at the Biology Institute of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). In addition, he owns two cacao plantations in the state of Bahia and conducts scientific experiments at one of them. Pereira says that the inspiration for this unconventional career path comes from his father, who was a merchant in Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia. “My father was a small businessman who never finished grade school, but he had a vision of creating wealth and value,” Pereira says. His research was in agricultural engineering at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). Throughout his academic career, he focused on studies of individual businesses. Beginning in high school, he flirted with genetics, a field in which he earned a master’s degree from the Luiz de Queiroz School of Agriculture (Esalq) at the University of São Paulo (USP), and a PhD from the University of Düsseldorf in Germany.
In 1997 Pereira was hired by Unicamp and served as coordinator of its Genomics and Expression Laboratory. He joined the project known as the Xylella fastidiosa Genome Project (named for the bacterium that causes diseases in citrus fruit). “It was revolutionary; we began working not with one gene, but with a set of genes,” Pereira says. In 2000, he learned through a friend of witches’ broom disease, a fungal condition that has severely afflicted the cacao-producing region of the state of Bahia. He decided to study the topic and, after visiting southern Bahia, became interested in purchasing a cacao plantation. “I sold everything I had and it almost ruined my marriage, but I bought it,” Pereira says. He led a network of researchers and cacao producers that was set up to conquer the witches’ broom fungus and he used his own property for experiments. In a scientific article, he described the biochemical bases of the disease. He had begun developing a plan to manage the disease when another farmer, Edvaldo Sampaio, developed a method of early pruning and other procedures (see Pesquisa FAPESP No. 128). Cacao production improved and Pereira decided to buy another plantation.
Pereira also worked on studying eucalyptus and coffee plant diseases and the development of yeasts. But it was while he was heading a project with Braskem, as part of the FAPESP Research Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE), that he felt the pull of the possibilities of working directly with private enterprise. And then there was a reunion. The president of the company at the time was Bernardo Gradin, who had been Pereira’s colleague when he served in the military in Bahia. After Gradin (who is a shareholder in the Odebrecht group) left Braskem, he sought out Pereira to discuss biotechnology and second-generation ethanol. “Gradin, Alan Hiltner [now vice president of new business at GranBio] and I met and drew up a plan of how the future company should operate in the scientific field in order to meet its goals,” says Pereira, who was invited to become a partner in the business. “It was a good agreement reached by a scientist sitting side-by-side with businessmen.” In addition to being the company’s chief scientist, Pereira also heads BioCelere, a subsidiary that serves as a research center in synthetic biology for GranBio. Combined with these responsibilities, while at BioCelere he supervises a staff of 23, he is also currently serving as advisor for 14 PhD and seven master’s degree candidates. But how does he make the most of his time? “It’s very easy; the most important thing is to eliminate bureaucracy. You need to have a manager who specializes in this field, and every one of your students must be excellent and want to change the world,” he says. “Also, scientists should steer clear of finance since that’s not their field.”Republish