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Letter from the editor | 327

Weights and measures

Everyone knows that drinking too much alcohol is bad for you. But the question that needs to be answered by the authorities creating public policies on the matter is how much is too much?

The answer is not simple and often changes in response to new knowledge. In addition to the drink’s alcohol content and serving size, factors such as the drinker’s age, sex, physical constitution, genetics, lifestyle, and general health all have an impact on tolerance. Even with these established variables, there is no consensus in the scientific literature.

There is, however, a general agreement that a totally safe level of consumption does not exist. Even in minimal amounts, alcohol poses health risks, especially heart problems, cancer, mental disorders, cirrhosis, and increased risk of involvement in accidents and physical violence.

This convergence of opinion has led the authorities in many countries to revise their recommendations of how much is considered a moderate alcohol intake, as described by editor Marcos Pivetta in this issue’s cover article.

Four years ago, Pesquisa FAPESP reported on the change in how the kilogram is measured, having been the last of the seven fundamental units still calculated based on a physical object. The measurement of time was changed in the 1960s with the adoption of atomic clocks, which calculate the duration of one second as the transition time between levels of one cesium-133 atom at rest.

That is how science measures time, but how does the brain gauge seconds? Researchers from UFABC who are trying to decipher how different brain regions encode the passing of brief time intervals discovered that this activity is not carried out continuously by a single area of the brain, as previously thought. Their experiments with rats show that at least two regions work in a coordinated and consecutive manner to execute the task.

Yellow fever, for which there is no cure, is the subject of a promising study by researchers from USP and FIOCRUZ in collaboration with American scientists. Two human antibodies were identified with treatment potential that allowed rodents and monkeys to survive infection with the virus, which causes hemorrhagic fever.

While the results are only preliminary, the possibility of being able to treat a disease that kills between 20% and 50% of patients is a promising new path in studies of the disease, which is endemic in Brazil.

In a similar vein, the article on page 36 shows that public investment in research on neglected tropical diseases has significantly decreased in the country over the last two decades. Yellow fever is no longer part of the group, which comprises diseases like leprosy and schistosomiasis, most prevalent in poor populations and countries.

The topic can be difficult, even for adults, so educators will likely be grateful for the recent release of a free book containing 62 short texts on death, mourning, and memory. Designed for elementary school students, the book was organized by two historians from the federal universities of Uberlândia and Pelotas and aims to help schools foster critical, reflective, and science-based discussions of issues related to human mortality.