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Letter from the editor | 125

Under the sign of change

Sometimes, good remedies for delicate human health problems emerge from sources that are unexpected and even rather surprising. This is one amongst other possible conclusions from a reading of the cover story of this issue of Pesquisa FAPESP. As science editor Carlos Fioravanti reports, researches at the University of São Paulo (USP) have just shown that cannabidiol, one of the most abundant substances of marijuana, is capable of holding back anxiety in a way that is equivalent to some synthetic medicines that have been used for decades. Apparently, it can also reduce depression. Other studies from the same university are bringing preliminary evidence that cannabidiol also works as an antipsychotic and is capable of making the dramatic symptoms of schizophrenia milder.

Other research had already indicated some effectiveness of the same substance against leukemia, epilepsy and other neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. Well, considering all this, the idea cannot be refused that marijuana – usually just treated as a drug whose continuous use may have pernicious physical and psychological effects – is offering itself as a very vast and promising field for a branch of scientific research committed above all to the health and well-being of human beings – drugs. And to judge from the results that have come out recently from the laboratories of Brazilian universities and from some of the country’s best research institutes, it is a field in which the country seems destined to advance rapidly, either by availing itself of plants, of substances in which considerable know-how has been built up, like snake venom, or maybe even synthetic molecules.

It is from the plant realm, incidentally, that some other goods news is coming from this issue . For example, the development of a genetically modified sugarcane that, when attacked by the sugarcane borer and only then works like a veritable insecticide, according to a report from the assistant technology editor, Dinorah Ereno. One of the main pests of the sugarcane crop, the borer is an insect that penetrates into the inside of the plant and then goes on digging internal galleries through which a good part of the farmer’s investments are drained off. Against this, promoter genes have gone into the engineering of this new plant with a noteworthy capability of defense against the undesirable guests.

Also worth highlighting in this issue is the interview with anthropologist Emilio Moran, in which he talks in a notably vivid way of the profound social transformations that are in gestation in this world where we live, as a result of the global climatic changes now under way. Masterfully handled, Moran’s words, as we said in the introduction to the interview, are capable of capturing the attention of even the most skeptical of the anti-environmentalists to this theme of climatic changes, less and less seen as just boring for anyone who is not a specialist.