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Letter from the editor | 87

Untouched Portraits

Growing old is certainly a complex experience. And not just for the gradual reduction in vigor, in the normal agility of an adult, not only for the progressive decline of the vital functions of the organism, for the frequent diseases and dramatic changes in physical appearance. Beyond all this, it is that subterranean part of this experience, emerging like a shadow over the time rolling by, sometimes subtly, sometimes densely, more perceived by some and deliberately forgotten by others, the anguish of finiteness – the awareness of death as a real and close something about to be. If this does not prevent sensations of pleasure, laughter and positive sentiments, like joy, sometimes it mingles with life itself which gives old age its particular mood.

This experience can be rich, it can be fruitful. And, above all, it can be lived in a harder or easier way, depending, in great measure, on the social reality in which the elderly are inserted. This becomes evident in this issue’s cover story, which begins on page 32, on an extensive study that shows how inhabitants of the municipality of São Paulo in an age range of 60 or more live, and what their state of health is like. The contingent of almost 1 million old people who live in the capital city of São Paulo – analyzed from a sample of 2,143 persons – corresponds to a little more than 9% of its population. As special reporter Marcos Pivetta shows, their average age is 69, 60% of this contingent are women, 20% of them are people who have never gone to school, 60% of them studied for less than seven years, and 87% of the total use some kind of medication. There are many other figures in the study, but the main indication that social conditions have a strong impact on the individual experience of growing old appears in this detail that links education and health: 65% of the elderly without schooling classify their health as poor or bad, a result that is located ten percentage points above the result obtained from the total of the sample. Moreover, the occurrence of cognitive problems, such as the loss of memory and reasoning, is shown in 17% of those who never went to school, in 5% of those who studied for up to seven years, and in 1% of those who studied for more than seven years.

Underlying the article on the elderly, there is, without a doubt, the idea of time, which is to impose itself more visibly in other texts from this issue – not with the affective sonorities and the philosophical burden that the concept frequently brings, but unfolding into objective measures, to which different scientific handlings submit it. Accordingly, we find the long time of the geological transformations in the article on research that proves that there was glaciation in the Northeast of Brazil. The northeastern backlands, today marked by tall mandacaru cactuses, by the droughts and intense heat, some 300 million years ago was covered by glaciers, tells reporter Francisco Bicudo (page 40). And we come across an infinitely longer time, in the text on the genesis of DNA, in which editor Carlos Fioravanti sets out (on page 58) the mathematical model that reconstituted the competition between molecules, from which DNA emerged as the winner, a probable 4.5 billion years ago.

After this dive into such a remote past, it is worth looking at the more palpable present and the future. We call attention, for example, to the article by Dinorah Ereno on the company that produces and exports insects intended to combat agricultural pests (page 68). And, to conclude, a special mention of the news about the beginning of the bovine genome project, which simultaneously involves genetic sequencing and functional analysis (page 22). Financed in a partnership between the Bela Vista Bovine Genetics Center and FAPESP, the project will be started this month, which shows that the country is moving quickly in this area – for the purposes of comparison, let it be recorded that the National Human Genome Research Institute, of the United States, has announced that its project for the complete sequencing of the bovine genome will probably start in September.

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