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SPECIAL ISSUE 2002 www.revistapesquisa.fapesp.br

HIGHLIGHTS OF BRAZILIAN RESEARCH IN 2002

BrasilBrasil


The communications expert Muniz Sodré speaks about his media theory EDITORIAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 MEMORY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6 CALIFORNIA CHILDREN WRITE TO BRAZILIAN SCIENTISTS . . . . . . . .12 BRAZILIAN UNIVERSITY TEAM DISCOVERS FOSSILS OF TWO SPECIES OF ANCESTORS OF MAMMALS IN SOUTHERN BRAZIL . . . . . . . . . . . . .28

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ART: HÉLIO DE ALMEIDA ON PHOTOS BY EDUARDO CESAR

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VENTURE CAPITAL

GENETICS

Brazilian Venture Fund invests in biotechnology companies

DNA vaccine created to fight tuberculosis will be tested against cancer in humans

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ECOLOGY

Jatoba may be an alternative to clean the atmosphere as it absorbs more carbon dioxide than it had been thought

MEDICINE

In the Amazon, researchers make headway in the study of malaria and the mechanisms for the transmission of emerging diseases EDUARDO CESAR

INTERVIEW

INSTITUTO DE BOTÂNICA

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NEGREIROS

LEO RAMOS

CONTENTS

RESEARCH ON SUGAR MADE BIODEGRADABLE PLASTIC SPAWNS A COMPANY AND NEW PROCESSES TO EXTRACT POLYMERS FROM SUGARCANE BAGASSE . . . . . . .46 RESEACHER FINDS IN ALUMINIUM SLAG A NEW INGREDIENT FOR MORTAR PRODUCTION . . . . . . . .52 THE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN JEWS AND CHRISTIANS DURING THE 2ND CENTURY . . . . . . . .62 CARTOON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .74

Cover and art: Hélio de Almeida

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FUEL

New technique will allow increases of up to 30% in alcohol production and could serve as an incentive for the return of the Pro-Alcohol program

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EDUCATION

Four books are launched with articles from specialists that discuss indigenous education PESQUISA FAPESP

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EDITORIAL

FAPESP CARLOS VOGT PRESIDENT PAULO EDUARDO DE ABREU MACHADO VICE-PRESIDENT BOARD OF TRUSTEES ADILSON AVANSI DE ABREU ALAIN FLORENT STEMPFER CARLOS HENRIQUE DE BRITO CRUZ CARLOS VOGT FERNANDO VASCO LEÇA DO NASCIMENTO HERMANN WEVER JOSÉ JOBSON DE ANDRADE ARRUDA MARCOS MACARI NILSON DIAS VIEIRA JUNIOR PAULO EDUARDO DE ABREU MACHADO RICARDO RENZO BRENTANI VAHAN AGOPYAN EXECUTIVE BOARD FRANCISCO ROMEU LANDI PRESIDENT DIRECTOR JOAQUIM J. DE CAMARGO ENGLER ADMINISTRATIVE DIRECTOR JOSÉ FERNANDO PEREZ SCIENTIFIC DIRECTOR

PESQUISA FAPESP EDITORIAL COUNCIL ANTONIO CECHELLI DE MATOS PAIVA, EDGAR DUTRA ZANOTTO, FRANCISCO ANTONIO BEZERRA COUTINHO, FRANCISCO ROMEU LANDI, JOAQUIM J. DE CAMARGO ENGLER, JOSÉ FERNANDO PEREZ, LUÍS NUNES DE OLIVEIRA, LUIZ HENRIQUE LOPES DOS SANTOS, PAULA MONTERO, ROGÉRIO MENEGHINI EDITOR IN CHIEF MARILUCE MOURA MANAGING EDITOR NELDSON MARCOLIN SENIOR EDITOR MARIA DA GRAÇA MASCARENHAS ART DIRECTOR HÉLIO DE ALMEIDA EDITORS CARLOS FIORAVANTI (SCIENCE) CLAUDIA IZIQUE (S&T POLICY) MARCOS DE OLIVEIRA (TECHNOLOGY) CARLOS HAAG (HUMANITIES) HEITOR SHIMIZU (ON-LINE VERSION) SPECIAL EDITOR MARCOS PIVETTA ASSISTANT EDITORS RICARDO ZORZETTO, DINORAH ERENO ART CHIEF TÂNIA MARIA DOS SANTOS ART JOSÉ ROBERTO MEDDA, LUCIANA FACCHINI PHOTOGRAPHERS EDUARDO CESAR, MIGUEL BOYAYAN COLABORATORS ROBINSON BORGES COSTA YURI VASCONCELOS ENGLISH VERSION TRANSLATION ROGER SKIPP, MARTIN FOLEY REVISION ALEX PADALKO SUBSCRIPTIONS TELETARGET TEL. (55 11) 3038-1434 – FAX: (55 11) 3038-1418

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The signed articles do not necessarily reflect FAPESP’s opinion THE TOTAL OR PARTIAL REPRODUCTION OF TEXTS OR PHOTOGRAPHS WITHOUT PREVIOUS PERMISSION, IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED

SECRETARIA DA CIÊNCIA TECNOLOGIA E DESENVOLVIMENTO ECONÔMICO

GOVERNO DO ESTADO DE SÃO PAULO

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PESQUISA FAPESP

SPECIAL ISSUE 2002

A mirror of Brazilian research

P

esquisa FAPESP is a very young magazine. It is just three years old in its present format. Or, if we include in its history the house organ Notícias FAPESP – from which this magazine stemmed – seven years old. But, albeit young, it is already one of the most important scientific publications in Brazil. The reason for this is that Pesquisa FAPESP offers to its readership, every month, a novel and consistent view of what is the best research carried out in this country, besides an outlook of the political decisions that have been sustaining its scientific and technological development. Its ultimate goal July, 2000 is to mirror the creative capacity, competence and endurance to overcome challenges of the Brazilian scientific community. And precisely for these characteristics Pesquisa FAPESP has become – in very little time – a reference for those who wish to discover more about the scientific production in Brazil, and for those who need to show the results of this production to the society and the media. This first special issue in English Pesquisa FAPESP, with 72 pages and a small print run of a thousand copies (whereas the monthly issues in Portuguese, with 96 pages, reach 42 thousand copies), targets the scientific institutions, the media and governmental organs linked to science and technology around the world. This issue brings an assortment of some of the many stories produced by our team between March and November of 2002 and we expect that through this sampling the reader will have a balanced view of the knowledge produced in Brazil. There is an on-line version of the monthly magazine (www.revistapesquisa.fapesp.br) in English and in Spanish. That version provides deeper insight into the research effort in our country. To wrap it up, a few words about FAPESP – the institution that has created and is responsible


March, 2002

April, 2002

August, 2002

June, 2002

October, 2002

July, 2002

November, 2002

for the magazine Pesquisa FAPESP. This acronym stands for São Paulo State Research Foundation, one of the main agencies of science support in Brazil, which has completed forty years of existence in 2002. Intrinsically linked to the history and expansion of scientific research in a state that accounts for nearly 50% of the Brazilian scientific production, this foundation – linked to the state government – oversees resources that correspond to 1% of the state tax revenues. The Foundation directs this money to research, in all fields of knowledge and technology, the merit of purposals being assessed by peers of the national scientific community itself. In special circunstances, reference is made to international advisors; an example is provided by the genetic sequencing of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, concluded in 2000. The diffusional scientifc knowledge is part of FAPESP’s institutional mission and Pesquisa FAPESP is the means it has chosen to achieve its goal. JOSÉ FERNANDO PEREZ Scientific Director PESQUISA FAPESP

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MEMORY

Motorless flights Some 70 years ago, Brazil discovered the pleasure of piloting gliders and planted the seeds at the base of the Brazilian aeronautics industry N ELDSON M ARCOLIN

Pilot experimenting the EAY-101: a passion for gliders

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IMAGENS CENTRO HISTÓRICO MACKENZIE

Pilot ready to fly (above on the left), workshop of the first glider (above, on the right) and the models EAY-101 and 102

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arly in the 30s of the last century, the technology of flight was in full development, and new findings continually improved aircraft construction. In Brazil, however, notwithstanding the heritage established by Alberto Santos-Dumont, who had invented the airplane in 1906, no university course deal with aeronauties. The course ended up breaking up and not a single group graduated. There was a lack of rules to give it a backbone, which wound up making the course out of the norms of the time. Behind this attempt to attend to the needs of aviation in the country was a group of engineers and students, founders of the Mackenzie Gliding Club of 1931. Presided over by the Frenchman George Corbisier, a graduate from the São Paulo academia, and with Henrique Santos-Dumont,

the brother of Alberto, on the Board of Directors, this group of friends built one of the first Brazilian gliders, according to the registry of the Revista de Engenharia Mackenzie (Mackenzie Engineering Magazine, June of 1934). Although it was completed, there is no photographic record of flight. Only its construction in a large shed is recorded. In 1932, along with attempt to set up the aeronautics course, the group arranged the first “gliders celebration” in São Paulo, at the airfield Campo de Marte – the airplane was the EAY-101. This short fever for sailplanes, as motorless flight is called, led the Technology Research Institute (IPT) to receive, during

1934, orders from the Polytechnic Gliders Club, created by final year students of civil engineering at the Polytechnic school. The Wood Departament was commissioned to reform and manufacture the wooden parts of the German gliders in use in Brazil. In time, the students went on to build their gliders at the IPT. The Wood Departament evolved into research of new materials that could substitute the original wood and shortly afterwards created the Aeronautical Section, which began to work on the prototype of the first motorized airplane. In 1938, the IPT-0, also called the Bichinho (Little Pet), flew for the first time, equipped with an American motor. It was the first of a series of airplanes projected and constructed at the Institute. The initiatives of Mackenzie and of the IPT were important driving forces for one of the greatest technological conquests that has been achieved in Brazil: the creation and posterior consolidation of the national aeronautics industry.

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SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL POLICY

VENTURE CAPITAL

Prospecting

NEGREIROS

Votorantim Ventures invests in biotechnology companies


for good

business T

he Votorantim group, the largest Brazilian industrial conglomerate, with annual sales of US$ 4 billion, is investing US$ 300 million in high technology businesses. Two years ago, the group created a venture capital fund, Votorantim Ventures, through which it now participates in companies in the areas of telecommunications and ebusiness, such as Optiglobe, .comDominio, Telefutura, Quadrem and Estrutura.net. Its attentions have now turned to emerging projects in the biotechnology sector, which in their great majority are being incubated in university laboratories. In the next few days, the group will be publishing a list of proposals – selected from a group of 50 – and in the future of which it wishes to invest amounts ranging from US$ 50,000 to US$ 50 million. Without a shadow of doubt, this is a risky bet. In the United States, for example, the statistics show PESQUISA FAPESP

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EDUARDO CESAR

what venture capital is, that nine out of every ten and then to prospect for emerging companies in business. “My mandate is which venture capital has to keep my eye on the unibeen invested do not taversities, which is a simple ke off. The identification task, because we speak the and selection of good same language”, he sums projects are a fundamenup. He has no doubt that tal step, though they do a pool of good ideas can not in themselves guaranbe found there.“For 25 yetee the success of the inars, agencies like FAPESP vestment. The key word is and the National Countherefore to carefully proscil for Scientific and Techpect the projects develonological Development ped in the academic world (CNPq) have been invesin order to discover whiting successfully in the ch have market potential. development of research. This is the task for which But you can count on your Votorantim has hired Ferfingers the number of comnando Reinach. A lecturer panies generated in the and researcher at the InsReinach: university is a pool for good ideas universities”. And why is it titute of Chemistry of the that good projects do not University of São Paulo, translate themselves into (USP), Reinach was an adbusiness? He gives the answer: “It is because ventuvisor to FAPESP, a coordinator of the projects for re capital is lacking in Brazil”. the genetic sequencing of the Xylella fastidiosa and Xanthomonas citri bacteria, and he himself has had the experience of an entrepreneur, when in 2000, with Entrepreneurship - But, besides resources, researfunds from private investors, he created .comDocher lack information on what this modality of inminio, nowadays the third largest data center in vestment actually is. Venture capital is a sort of long the country, after Diveo and Optiglobe, and larger term finance – sustained by a participating stake than Embratel. of the investor in the company –, recovered after Since December, Reinach has been visiting unithe development of the company, through a public versities and research institutes, firstly, to explain stock offer, or the total or partial sale of the enter-

A market with a future Venture capital investments are growing slowly in Brazil. In 2000, they amounted to US$ 747 million, and, last year, to something around US$ 800 million, according to the figures released by the Brazilian Venture Capital Association (ABCR), on the basis of a survey by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV), sponsored by the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep). The good news is that, in spite of the fall in the NASDAQ electronic stock exchange, the volume of investments has not fallen, observes Robert Binder, the ABCR’s executive director. In the United States, the burst of the Internet bubble had a high cost; the venture capital market plunged from US$ 100

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billion in 2000 to US$ 40 billion in 2001. According to the survey, up to last year, the sectors of telecommunications and the new media attracted over half the venture funds. Start-ups got only 15% of the investments, and mature companies at the stage of expansion, 78%. With the exception of Extracta, from Rio de Janeiro, no biotechnology company has been targeted for venture investment, he says. “The great problem is the time it takes these companies to come to maturity”, Binder notes. “The government’s action, through Finep’s Inovar ( Innovate) program, was decisive”. Privatization of sectors like telecommunicati-

ons, for example, is already generating new business. Investments in biotechnology may grow, since, besides biodiversity, Brazil has competitive advantages to bet on the development of this market. Incidentally, in the United States seven biotechnology companies are now part of the NASDAQ 100 index, which ranks the largest non-financial companies according to their market value. The ABCR has 64 associates, including investment funds, consultancies, stock exchanges, companies and incubators. The entity estimates that the potential for investment in venture capital in Brazil has added up to US$ 3.8 billion since 2000.


prise. In the United States, it has been working since the Forties. It was, for example, venture capital that allowed the creation of companies like Microsoft, Intel and HP, just to mention more recent cases. “Venture capital works very close to the university. It works a as a fulcrum for the creation of small companies, with no more than ten persons, where the researcher goes in with the idea, and venture capital with the money”, he explains. In Brazil, venture capital is a relatively recent investment. These were the funds that boosted the development of Internet companies, from 1999 onwards. “When the Internet bubble burst, the idea of entrepreneurship and venture capital funds stayed on, this time trying to pick out long term investments”, explains Reinach. There are strong signs that these funds, which had betted on dotcoms, are now turning towards helping emerging companies in the biotechnology sector. This change of direction, by the way, closes what Reinach calls the “virtuous circle of technology”: the government invests in research with no intent of making a profit – as in the case of FAPESP’s Project for Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE in the Portuguese acronym), for example –, boosts an invention, and venture capital finance the setting up of a company that, when successful, will pay taxes to the government.

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t is in the capacity of a venture capital fund that Votorantim Ventures will be injecting money into good ideas, by buying into the company. “We may participate with 5% or up to 90% of the capital of the future company”, the researcher reveals. He believes that the fund may carry out an average of ten investments a year. According to Paulo Henrique de Oliveira Santos, Votorantim Ventures’ chief executive officer (CEO), the strategy is to bet on a larger number of smaller projects. But there are some prerequisites for this association to be carried out. The first is for the good idea to correspond to a good market. An electronic corkscrew, produced at a unit cost of US$ 5,000, may be a “superdiscovery”, but the size of the market would certainly not justify any investment, in Reinach’s example. “We rely on a group of analysts that will assess the project, and, in conjunction with the researcher, draw up a business plan”, he says. The second prerequisite is to reach an agreement as to the percentage of the investor’s participation in the composition of the future company. On this point, as Reinach says, negotiations are “completely subjective”. A researcher who supposes that he has discovered a solution for the treatment of a disease calculates that the company will be worth US$ 150 million in the future. He believes he needs US$ 15 million to set the business up, and proposes the sale of part of the

estimated value of the future company, in this case 10%, to venture partners. The investors, from their side, calculate the risk of failure, market potential and price, and forecast a lower value for the company, which expands their participating interest in the make-up of its capital.“As it is they who run the risk, they expect the highest remuneration possible”, he explains. He underwent this experience when he created .comDomínio. “We had the idea of making a data center, a service that still did not exist in Brazil. We put together a competent team, recruited from the university, I took leave from full time work at USP, we put up a business plan, and we went off to the United States, after venture capital to bank a US$ 50 million investment”, he recalls. The major part of the funds came from the American bank, JP Morgan, from the start the company’s largest stockholder. Votorantim Venture also had a stake in the enterprise. “We have always had less than half of the capital”, he says. “If it did not work out, they would lose money and we would have put our career in risk to no avail”. The business prospered and .comDominio is a professionally run company. “We continue to be stockholders. We are owners, but no longer members of staff ”. The quality of being an entrepreneur does not require the researcher to distance himself from the university. “It is in the company’s interest for the link to continue”, he explains. Reinach points out, however, that everything depends on the structure and the legislation of each university. He himself has plans for going back to his classes at the Institute of Chemistry in the next semester. “I do not want to leave the university”. •


SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNOLOGICAL POLICY

TEACHING

Californian children write letters to Brazilian scientists

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ori Connelly is a classroom teacher of a 4th Grade class in a primary school in San Luis Obispo, a town in the interior of California, United States. Surrounded by vineyards, the region is great producer of quality wines and lives under the threat of being hit by Pierce’s disease, a pest that attacks the grapevines, caused by a variety of the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa, which is also responsible for loses in orange trees. In August of 2000, the United States Agricultural Department proposed a partnership to FAPESP for the sequencing of the grapevine Xylella, making use of the Brazilian experience in this area. Led by researchers Marie-Anne Van Sluys and Mariana Cabral de Oliveira, both from São Paulo University, and João Paulo Kitajima from the São Paulo

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State University of Campinas, the Brazilians met with the North Americans and carried out the work. Teacher Lori, with a New York Times story, showed the students, all of them between eight and nine years of age, how it is possible to successfully work in cooperation with people from any place on earth. Twenty nine students then wrote letters thanking the Brazilian scientists. “Lori taught the children that researchers throughout the world are the same and are beyond the differences between rich and poor countries”, comments Andrew Simpson of the Ludwig Cancer Research Institute, the coordinator of FAPESP’s first genome project, that of Xylella. All of the letters have the same tone as that written by Warren Stevens Crendall: “Thank you for the hard work that you have done”. •

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ART: HÉLIO DE ALMEIDA ON PHOTOS BY EDUARDO CESAR


SCIENCE GENETICS

The target

is human health

Tests are beginning on human beings of the first genetic vaccine developed in Brazil that in the laboratory has shown itself to be effective against cancer and tuberculosis C ARLOS F IORAVANTI

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n three months at the most, a decisive chapter in the history of the first genetic vaccine developed here in Brazil will begin: tests will be carried out on human beings. The formula created and perfected over a ten-year period by the biochemist Célio Lopes Silva, from the Medical School of the University of São Paulo (USP) in the town of Ribeirão Preto, originally for the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, will be given to a restricted group of eighteen people, all with an advanced phase of head and neck cancer that is no longer responding to any other treatment. In this phase, the completion of which was approved in August by the National Council of Research Ethics (Conep in the Portuguese acronym), the intention is to evaluate if the compound shows toxic effects, as yet not verified in laboratory animals, what is the best dosage, and if it really can contain the advance of the tumors. “The results, if positive, will serve as guidelines for other clinical studies (on humans) of this genetic vaccine”, Silva comments. Planned in detail throughout this year, the next research phase may represent the most concrete evidence that this DNA vaccine, as it is also called, works like a medicine, acting when an illness has already installed itself within the organism, and not just like a traditional vaccine, of a preventative character. In fact, the most recent studies in this area have widened the meaning of the word vaccine, which today no longer represents something that avoids an illness, but also something that can cure an illness. The results, as they come forward, probably after some six months from the start PESQUISA FAPESP

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of the tests, could help to make possible a new pathway in the treatment of cancer, with fewer undesirable side effects than the traditional radio and chemotherapy treatments. In other countries, there are clinical tests underway with genetic vaccines against Aids, hepatitis and malaria, as well as various types of cancer. According to Kald Ali Abdallah, a researcher at the Medical School of USP in São Paulo and one of the two tests coordinators, there are no reports that serious side effects have been noted beyond a moderate fever and swelling at the location of the vaccine application, typical of any vaccine.

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he future tests are also creating an expectation for another reason: if they are successful, they may prove that the formula over which Silva has been working intensely for the last ten years, has a range of action greater than that initially sought after: to protect against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes human tuberculosis, transmitted through the air, which every single second infects a human being. Installed in one third of the world’s population, above all in the poorest countries, the disease annually kills two million people – just in Brazil there are 130,000 new cases per year. Preliminary results obtained with laboratory animals indicate that the vaccine, by way of small variations in the composition and the dosage, could

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be effective not only against tuberculosis, but also against other types of cancer such as that of urinary bladder and skin, as well as leishmaniasis and in animals, against bovine tuberculosis. Besides the liberation for the tests on human beings, the researchers at the genetic vaccine laboratory, coordinated by Silva, have managed to produce a new form of the vaccine, which makes possible the application in a single dose – thus simplifying the work of medical doctors and veterinarians – and no longer in three applications as in the previous version. With the new formula of the vaccine, one dose ten times less potent than that previously adopted shows the same protective effect against the bacteria that cause tuberculosis, according to the results published this month in Gene Therapy, one of the most important international magazines in this area. Both in the old formula, with the pure DNA, and in the most recent version, in which the DNA can be found involved with other molecules, the vaccine prepares the organism so that it itself solves the problems or, in a more precise manner, works as a regulator of the immunological system – an immunemodulator. That is the reason why, in principle, it can be applied to more than one illness, to prevent or to cure. One of the most important abilities of the vaccine being studied by the Ribeirão Preto group is to act directly on the macrophages, cells that are essential to the defense system, which coordinate the


SIRIO J. B. CANÇADO

actions of other cells – it is exactly in the macrophages that the Mycobacterium tuberculosis install themselves and remains dormant until it later enter into action at a moment of the organism’s fragility. By acting upon the macrophages, the DNA vaccine induces the production of molecules called gamma interferon, which regulate one of the types of responses of the immunological system against reagents foreign to the organism or against tumor cells, besides stimulating the lymphocytes that eliminate the infected cells (see illustration). Although the new formula seems promising, the next set of tests are going to evaluate the efficiency of the simpler formula, with pure DNA – much more deeply studied – that will be applied directly on the tumor to be treated – the so-called epidermoid carcinoma, responsible for almost the total of nearly eleven thousand cases of cancer of the head and neck that arise per year in Brazil. Four teams from the Medical School of USP are going to be working during this next phase: two of them, coordinated by Abdallah and Jorge Elias Kalil, looking after the clinical evaluation of the selected individuals and following up any possible side effects due to the vaccine; and the other two led by Alberto Ferraz and Pedro Michaluart, will look after the analyses of the action of the compound directly on the tumor. “50 milligrams of the vaccine are sufficient for us to begin the tests”, says Abdallah. But it is not so easy to

obtain what may seem so little at the current stage of the research.

S

ilva knows that, in order to shortly begin the tests on human beings and to precisely define the true effects of the applications in other illnesses other than tuberculosis, he needs to find new sources for producing more vaccine. At least one thousand times more, jumping from the current milligrams to some grams per week, and with a degree of purity internationally recommended for human use, in such a way as to meet the conditions known as GMP (good manufacturing practices), that demand an extremely clean environment, with fewer particles in the air than that of a surgery room. “It’s not easy”, says the researcher from USP.“We now have to dominate the technology processes.” The proportion among the reagents, the reaction time and the rate of production tend to change when the production leaves the laboratory bench and moves on to a larger scale. At the beginning of October, shortly before flying off to India, on a federal government exchange mission in the research and production of medicines, Silva sent to the Ministry of Health the plan in which he outlines the necessary level of technological development. It is a project budgeted at R$ 20 million that includes the production and the testing of the DNA vaccine as well as other medicines against PESQUISA FAPESP

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Mycobacterium tuberculosis cultivated in the laboratory: transmitted through the air, the bacterium kills two million people per year

tuberculosis, researched through the TB network, an association of specialists created last year to combat this disease. As a result of the integration brought about by this research network, the USP laboratory evaluated six hundred plant extracts for action against tuberculosis and verified that at least ten are also promising as potential alternatives against the bacillus known as Koch, referring to its discoverer, the German bacteriologist Robert Koch (18431910, Nobel Prize winner in 1905).

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or the time being, Silva is waiting for some space to be freed up at the Medical School in order to set up the fermenters, centrifuges, extractors and purifiers for the DNA and to begin production on a pilot scale, with a productivity rate of up to one thousand times greater than that currently being undertaken. When the equipment start to operate, probably at the start of next year, the research born in the university will begin to turn into a product. At that stage there will be the participation of a technology based company, RDBiotec, established in May exactly for the purpose of increasing the scale of production, under the best possible conditions of time and cost, by way of a project financed through FAPESP. One of the RDBiotec directors is the researcher from the state of Minas Gerais José Maciel Rodrigues Junior, who at the end of last year left his post as professor of pharmaceutical technology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) so that he could dedicate himself full-time to the challenge of making viable Célio Lopes’ vaccine, with whom, in truth, he had already worked for some years. It was professor Rodrigues who proposed, during 1997, the pathway that would lead to the current formula of the vaccine. It is from the new laboratory that the vaccine to be applied during the tests on human beings will come, beginning with cancer since there are already teams and adequate installations. Evidently, Silva is also contemplating on tests against tuberculosis, but he knows that they will be more complex: they demand an infrastructure and safety conditions that are more refined, so as to avoid the transmission of the bacillus resistant to any known medicine, which cause multi-resistant tuberculosis, against which the vaccine would initially be applied. If it works on the most serious strain of the illness, which in Brazil hits close to 1% of those who are infected, it will be almost certain that the DNA vaccine from the Ribeirão Preto group will be effective against the lesser forms of tuberculosis and will set itself up as an alternative vaccine to that most commonly in use against the illness, BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin),

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which has been losing its effectiveness since in began to come into use way back in 1921. Versatility - The in-depth studies into the bovine vaccine, already planned with researchers from the School of Veterinary Medicine of UFMG, will also depend on the supply of more vaccine. “The first tests suggest that the vaccine can stall the action of any Mycobacterium”, Silva reports. Thus, the sacrifice of animals could be avoided, a policy currently recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture when bovine tuberculosis is detected, caused by Mycobacterium bovis. As yet without a cure, this illness affects almost 14 million animals of the total national herd of around 170 million head of cattle. According to Rodrigues, there are also promising results in the fight against leishmaniasis: in a test carried out with a research group from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), with mice that received the vaccine – by way of their nose – it managed to prevent them contracting this illness caused by the protozoa of the gender leishmania. In the patenting process here in Brazil and abroad, the new formula of the vaccine contains three basic components. The first is the gene that contains the recipe for the production of the protein named hsp65 (hsp means heat shock protein and 65 indicates its molecular mass of 65 kilodaltons; the dalton


MIGUEL BOYAYAN

is the unit of atomic mass). Produced by the bacterium under stressful conditions – for example, on the invasion of an organism –, this protein functions as an antigen, a molecule that brings into action the replies of the immune system, in this case, against the bacillus. It was with this gene, integrated into a plasmid (fragment of DNA in the form of a ring) that Silva obtained the preliminary results of the first genetic vaccine against tuberculosis in the world, announced in 1994 at a congress of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva.

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n the current version of the vaccine, the gene finds itself surrounded, firstly by molecules of a glycolipid – a sugar associated with fat (lipid) – trehalose dimycolate, incorporated as an assistant of the vaccine as it is found on the external wall of the micro-bacteria and it sets off the defense mechanisms of the immune system. Both the gene and the glycolipid occupy the cavity within a polymer (molecule with the same structure repeated a large number of times) know as poly (L-glutamic acid) or PLGA for short. The polymer forms micro-spheres of around three micrometers (a micrometer is one millionth part of a meter) – it was this material that Rodrigues suggested Silva incorporate into the vaccine some five years ago. Already produced at Ribeirão Preto, the micro-spheres

lead the gene directly to the target – in the case of tuberculosis the infected macrophages – and, apparently, they also protect the DNA from attack by enzymes that normally would degrade it as soon as it would enter into the cells. The new formula also had some factors found by chance. In 1998, still in search of the pathway that would lead to the most recent conquests, Silva discovered in the magazine Vaccine an article by Japanese researchers who had made use of glycolipids in association with the recombinant virus of hepatitis B. He hardly had to study anything in order to adopt this molecule, the properties of which he had detailed out some twenty years previously when he carried out his master’s thesis at the Chemical Institute of USP, in São Paulo. Those were difficult times. Silva had been working as a chemical technician during the day, and make use of his free time to develop his master’s thesis, and in the evenings he attended lectures. But these were not the greatest challenges of the student born in the rural district of Leme in the state of São Paulo. While still a child, the future author of the only proposal of a genetic vaccine against tuberculosis chosen by the WHO, cut sugarcane, picked corn and cotton, while helping his parents with the harvest. Later, as an adolescent, he worked as an assistant bricklayer and cloth salesman, but always without losing his PESQUISA FAPESP

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EDUARDO CESAR

Silva: clinical tests and new research with animals depend on a production rate one thousand times greater for the genetic vaccine

interest for study, which guaranteed him a place at ma, one of the master’s students supervised by USP, when eighteen. It was in 1990, already in a sciprofessor Rodrigues at the UFMG and through entific career, that during his post doctorate carriSilva’s doctorate at USP, this formula reduces by ed out at the National Institute of Medical Reseten times the quantity of DNA of the plasmid: a arch in London, he got to know about the gene of single dose with 30 micrograms of DNA has prethe hsp65 protein. He had no choice: it was the sented the same effect as three doses of 100 microonly one available in the laboratory and one of the grams of the DNA of the previous version, done few antigens of bacteria already cloned. only with the plasmid. The researchers believe that The gene that made Silva enter in the research the tripod of gene, glycolipid and micro-sphere, into tuberculosis was in fact from another bacterium, could also work against other illnesses by exchannamed Mycobacterium leprae, which causes leprosy, ging the antigen, or by extending the immunological stimulus, using different combinations of miand, as was later discovered, shows 90% similarity to that of M. tuberculosis. The research advanced, although the doubt persisted if it would THE PROJECT THE PROJECT not be better to make use of the equivalent of the bacillus Pre-Clinical Tests of Vaccines, Production of Purified Plasmid of tuberculosis itself. Only Generic Therapy and New Drugs DNA and Recombinant Proteins, recently was it discovered that against Tuberculosis on a Large Scale, for use in Vaccines the initial pathway was the one and Diagnostic Applications MODALITY that was correct. In an article Thematic project MODALITY published in April in the maPartnership Program for gazine Biochemistry, Silva and Technological Innovation (PITE) COORDINATOR Antonio Camargo, of the BuCÉLIO LOPES SILVA – tantan Institute, demonstraMedical School of USP COORDINATOR ted that the gene that functiin Ribeirão Preto JOSÉ MACIEL RODRIGUES JUNIOR – Life Sciences Ltda. ons better is that of the protein INVESTMENT of M. leprae. R$ 929,918.36 and US$ 846,938.75 INVESTMENT Adjusted by Silva, RodriR$ 21,000.00 and US$ 21,000.00 gues and Karla de Melo Li20

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cro-spheres that release the DNA from time to time, in spaced out doses. According to Silva, the tests on mice demonstrate the action of the vaccine up to nine months after its application “Apparently”, says Karla, “we can develop other strategies for the micro-spheres to degrade at different times, combining a faster action with one that is much slower.” Auto-immunity - Silva does not fear the risk of the gene impregnated into the vaccine that he has developed integrating itself into the genome of the treated individuals, as could occur in the classical occurrences of genetic therapy: at the end of September, it was noted that a medicine based on a retro-virus developed in France to treat a serious immunological problem, the so called blister illness, caused leukemia in a group of patients. “Even when used as a medicine, this vaccine does not present the same risks as the other genetic therapies”, the researcher form USP says. “We have already proven that the gene does not incorporate itself into the genome of the people treated.” His greatest worry is something else: the risk of the vaccine leading to an attack on the body itself, the so called autoimmunity effect. In principle, the hsp65 gene of Mycobacterium, since it is similar (50% of similarity) to the one of the proteins of invertebrate animals in general, could generate a mechanism through which the immuno-

KARLA LIMA/USP MIGUEL BOYAYAN

KARLA LIMA/USP

Macrophages envelop the micro-spheres (details at the side): advance against the Mycobacterium (amplified one thousand times)

logical system could view its own body as something foreign – this is what happens in autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis, one of the types of diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The biochemist Alexandrina Sartori from the state of Rio Grande do Sul a researcher at the São Paulo State University (Unesp) of Botucatu, who did his post doctorate in Ribeirão Preto, has examined this possibility initially in arthritis, in a study conducted in conjunction with Rubens Santos Jr. and Marcelo Franco’s team at the Butantan Institute. The results could not be better: as well as avoiding the appearance of arthritis, the vaccine combated the illness previously active. In the first experiment, only one of the twenty five mice developed arthritis, induced by way of a mineral oil called pristane, which makes the infirmity appear on the joints on half of the animals to which it is applied. In a second test, the researchers verified that the vaccine made the arthritis disappear in all of the thirteen mice in which it had previously been installed. Alexandrina detected the research line that has now opened up: “If this vaccine also works on other autoimmune illnesses, it could be used in therapy, more than in immunization”. Together with Ricardo Zolner’s team from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), the team from Ribeirão Preto is preparing to begin tests on another auto-immune illness, that of diabetes. The results should be published in the middle of next year. • PESQUISA FAPESP

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ECOLOGY

EDUARDO CESAR

SCIENCE

Jatoba against pollution

Tropical trees may be an option for cleaning the atmosphere, should the greenhouse effects increase M ARCOS P IVET TA

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ransforming tropical rain forests into carbon dioxide (CO2) cleaners and thereby freeing the atmosphere from large quantities of the main gas responsible for increasing the greenhouse effect on Earth is, for the time being, an idea as controversial as it is unattainable. If one day this feat becomes possible, a group of specialists in plant physiology from the São Paulo Institute of Botany believes that the jatoba, a tree that is extremely well adapted to Brazilian ecosystems and present in practically all the latitudes of the Brazilian territory, may be a good candidate for carrying out the role of cleaner of the air – or, at the least, to show how this task may be carried out by other plants. This dream, a still far-fetched reverie, is based on the results of a series of experiments carried out with seedlings of a species of courbaril, Hymenaea courbaril (Jatoba), whose growth seems to speed up in environments rich in carbon dioxide, the popular name for CO2. Generally speaking, the studies indicate that when they are cultivated for three months in a place with 720 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 in the air, twice the current concentration in the atmosphere, the Jatoba seedlings double their absorption of carbon dioxide and the production of sugars (carbohydrates), and increase their biomass by as much as 50%, above all in the area of the leaves and in the roots, in the light of the fact that, at this age, the plants are not yet producing trunk (wood). “The work suggests that the courbaril may continue to trap carbon while growing in an environment with high levels of carbon dioxide”, says Marcos Silveira Buckeridge, from the Institute of Botany, the coordinator of a project carried out in the ambit of Biota-FAPESP, a program for mapping biodiversity in São Pau-

Jatoba: in an environment saturated with carbon dioxide, more photosynthesis


INSTITUTO DE BOTÂNICA

lo. “Our proposal is not to set out planting jatoba forests in the hope of reducing the greenhouse effect. It is, rather, to understand this plant’s physiological mechanism, and research into this is at a more advanced stage, to try one day to optimize the assimilation of carbon by the courbaril and other tropical trees that ought to have a similar metabolism”.

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f the behavior of the adult courbaril in the forest is similar to that of its sapling cultivated in a controlled environment, this tree may be able to get considerably stouter, should the Earth’s atmosphere reach those 720 ppm of CO2 in 2075, as some estimates suggest. In this hypothetical futuristic scenario, to say that the jatoba tree is going to increase its biomass – to have more and/or larger leaves and roots, and, above all, to produce more wood – is equivalent to claiming that this plant is going to trap more carbon from the air. After all, the cellulose in wood is one of the best ways of storing carbon present today in the CO2 in the atmosphere. “We still do not know, however, how the jatoba tree, in its entirety, responds to the increase of CO2”, comments Marcos Aidar, another biologist from the Institute of Botany involved in the project. “We cannot specify, for example, how much of this extra carbon dioxide that goes into the plant ends up leaving it through its respiration.” Along with water and light, carbon dioxide is a compound necessary for plants to carry out photosynthesis (energy production ). The CO2 absorbed by a plant can only have two destinations: a part remains held back in the inside of the plant, and the other is sent back to the atmosphere through respiration. The portion that stays in the plant is used in chemical reactions that generate cellulose and other sugars. Altering the mixture of the quantity of CO2 eliminated by plants, and above all of the fraction used in the production of carbohydrates and wood, is a goal pursued by the paper industry, sectors of agriculture, and scientists like Buckeridge and Aidar. In the last few decades, the rise in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was basically due to changes in the use of the land (slashing and burning of forests) and to the increase

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Surface of a leaf from a 1919 jatoba: 40% more stomata (highlighted)...

in industrial activity, above all because of the accelerated combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). Measures at a global level to fight a series of environmental problems, including the stepping up of the greenhouse effect, were discussed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Rio + 10 conference held by the United Nations (UN) in South Africa at the end of August and beginning of September. Theoretically, lowering CO2 emissions is the simplest and most effective measure to lessen the impact of the greenhouse effect, which is expected to warm up the Earth’s climate by a few degrees and change the rainfall pattern at some spots of the globe. However, this objective is one that is difficult to achieve, since the United States, which on its own emits one quarter of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is not willing to take on a commitment like this, as it once again was made clear at the UN meeting (see the box on page 26). Among the proposals that are alternative or complementary to the reduction in the CO2 emission, one that is frequently pointed out is the maintenance of the tropical forests (and the possible reforestation of new areas), above all due to the potential shown

by trees for trapping carbon. Potential, by the way, that is still far from being known, and one that may vary a lot as a result of several factors, such as the age and type of tree being analyzed. As a rule, it is usually said that tropical forests have a great capacity for taking CO2 from the air. But recent calculations made in the ambit of the Large-Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in the Amazon (LBA), an international megaproject led by Brazil, point to the potential for sequestering carbon of this ecosystem possibly being more modest than it used to be thought. This is the context into which the studies of the researchers from the Institute of Botany fit, on the metabolism of courbaril in carbon dioxide rich environments. The main field experiment with Jatoba was carried out last year in collaboration with Carlos Martinez, then at the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV), in Minas Gerais, and today at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Ribeirão Preto. In Viçosa, the cuttings of the plant were cultivated in two kinds of special chambers: one in which the mixture of gases was the same as in today’s atmosphere (360 ppm of CO2), and another with the air kept artifici-


INSTITUTO DE BOTÂNICA

...than today, when the concentration of carbon dioxide is 20% higher (magnified 25 times)

ally with a constant concentration of 720 ppm of CO2. These devices do not reproduce to perfection the hypothetical environment of 2075 – for example, there is no control over the temperature and humidity, parameters that are likely to change with an increase of the greenhouse effect. Even so, the use of the chambers is universally accepted for this kind of comparative test. “There are more sophisticated and expensive methods, but the majority of work makes use of these chambers”, Buckeridge ponders. In the course of the experiment, measurements were taken of several parameters of the plants brought up under different environmental conditions and afterwards collated. Another methodology used by the researchers was to pump different concentrations of carbon dioxide into only the leaves of the jatoba – and not the whole cutting. With this more targeted approach, concentrated on the part of the plant that absorbs and emits gases, Buckeridge’s team discovered that the leaves of the jatoba only reach saturation point in the absorption of CO2 when the concentration of gas exceeds 1,000 ppm. This is an extremely high saturation point, compared with other tropical plants. The bromeliad Alcanta-

rea imperialis, for example, cannot successfully increase the speed with which it assimilates carbon dioxide, if placed in an environment with 600 ppm. With Brazilwood (Caesalpinia echinata), the same happens when the level of CO2 hits 700 ppm. “If our hypothesis is right, the jatoba will still be responding to the change in the concentration of this gas many decades after other plants have reached their utmost point of assimilating carbon”, Aidar comments.

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esides showing that the jatoba cuttings behave differently when cultivated in different concentrations of CO2, the work found alterations in the cellular structure of the leaves of the plants. The team from the Institute of Botany, also made up of Paula Costa, Solange Viveiros and Sonia Dietrich, found that the number of stomata in the courbarils cultivated at 720 ppm of CO2 was about 15% less than those measured in the saplings kept at 360 ppm. Present fundamentally on the surface of the leaves, where they control the gas coming into and going out of the plants, in particular the absorption of CO2 and the emission of water vapor, the stomata are sets of cells that

perform the role of pores in plants. What does the variation in the number of stomata have to do with the lesser or greater volume of CO2 in the atmosphere? In environments that are extremely rich in carbon dioxide, plants adapt themselves to the conditions of the atmosphere and reduce the number of stomata in order not to capture an excessive amount of CO2, which would not be productive or could be even harmful to their organisms. “Changes in the density of stomata are part of the mechanism for regulating plant metabolism”, says Buckeridge. “This has now been seen in plants from a temperate climate and in Arabidopsis thaliana (a plant model for biology) exposed to high concentrations of CO2.” Alterations in the level of stomata in plants are not just a phenomenon foreseen for the future, if and when the increase of the greenhouse effect becomes even more intense. Actually, there are strong signs that these changes in the leaf cellular structure have been going on for at least two centuries. Work done in centers abroad have shown that, with the Industrial Revolution and the gradual rise in the emission of toxic gases such as CO2, today’s plants show less stomata than those of the past. Buckeridge’s team also corroborated this phenomenon with the courbaril. In the herbarium of the Institute of Botany, they took leaves from a tree dating from 1919, a time when the concentration of CO2 was around 300 ppm, 20% less than now, and saw that this example of the species had a density of stomata that was 40% greater than in today’s Jatoba. “If compared with the Jatoba cuttings that we cultivated in Viçosa at 720 ppm, the specimen from the beginning of last century had practically double the number of stomata”, says Aidar. The reader may not have noticed a paradox that pops up from the experiments carried out with the jatoba cuttings in the supposed environment of 2075, rich in CO2. Under these conditions, the plant shows an increase of 50% in its sugar and doubles the assimilation of carbon dioxide. These last two details lead one to believe that, compared with the current situation, the photosynthesis of the plant also should double, if the levels of CO2 increase PESQUISA FAPESP

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100% over the next 75 years. So far, it all makes sense. But the reduction in the number of stomata messes up this picture a bit. After all, this alteration is an attempt to adjust downwards – and not upwards, as the earlier data suggests – the current levels of the plant’s photosynthesis. “It may be that, in spite of having lowered the number of stomata, there has been an improvement in the cellular structure that were left and are responsible for capturing CO2”, says Buckeridge. This contradiction is an indication that the courbaril’s metabolism is waging a kind of inner battle to try to adjust the level of photosynthesis in an environment richer in carbon dioxide. Many botanists believe that plants have an internal mechanism that allows them to sense the quantity of carbohydrates (sugars), and so to adjust its levels of photosynthesis, to avoid absorbing too much carbon dioxide. According to this theory, when the production of sugars reaches a very high level, above the capacity of the plant for using them, a sensor sends an order to stop photosynthesis and, as a consequence, to lower the assimilation of CO2 and the synthe-

Cuttings: with twice the carbon dioxide in the air, they double the production of sugars

sis of cellulose. In the opinion of Buckeridge and Aidar, determining the genes that codify proteins that are important for the workings of this natural sugar sensor, such as the enzyme known as rubisco (ribulose-1,5 – bisphosphate Carboxylase) – may be useful for trying to control the entry of carbon dioxide and the production of cellulose in trees.

Enthusiastic over the results achieved with the courbaril cuttings at 720 ppm of CO2, the researchers from the Institute of Botany decided to publicly advocate the idea of researching the use of gene therapy in plants to pursue this intention. In an article published in April in the Biota Neotropica electronic magazine, maintained by the Biota-FAPESP program, the two researchers proposed a few biochemical routes which could be altered in plants with the intent of controlling their photosynthesis, the metabolism of carbohydrates (sugars), and the synthesis of cellulose as well. “We know that this idea is controversial, but we defend approaches that are safe from the environmental point of view”, Aidar explains. To be ecologically correct, these interventions into plant genomes must not be handed down to their descendants. In this way, nature is not affected by transgenic species, which could compete and become dominant, with regard to the one unaltered in their DNA.

Russia makes international agreement feasible If the measure of the success of Rio + 10, the world summit of the UN for sustainable development that ended last month in Johannesburg, is the adhesion of the United States to the commitments laid down in the Kyoto Protocol, the meeting may be considered a failure, at first sight. In South Africa, the George W. Bush administration gave no guarantees to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide, the main culprit for the greenhouse effect. But what seemed to be a victory for the intransigence of the Americans, responsible for one quarter of the global emissions of CO2, may be a sign of the growing isolation of the country’s position. Although the summit did not produce any bombastic facts, the end of

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this mega-event, which gathered representatives from 190 countries, may have paved the way for Kyoto to start being put into effect. By 2012, the protocol provides for bringing down the levels of CO2 emitted by the industrial countries to the levels prior to 1990. To come into force, the agreement needs to be ratified by at least 55 countries (which has now been achieved), which account for a minimum of 55% of the global emissions of CO2 – a requirement that is difficult to meet without the United States and of its allies in the environmental field. But the scenario changed at the end of the meeting, as Russia, the second largest emitter of CO2 on the planet, and Canada, a follower of the Washington recipe book, said that they will ratify

the protocol shortly. Australia too is studying compliance with the Kyoto rules. As the 15 countries of the European Union and Japan ratified the agreement at the beginning of the year, with the entry of Russia, and even without the United States, the protocol can take off. Poor and developing countries like Brazil are exempt from complying with the targets. Brazil, indeed, made news at Rio + 10, by presenting a proposal that called attention: it advocated the idea that by 2010 10% of the energy used globally should come from renewable sources, such as hydroelectricity. The suggestion was however rejected by the United States and the oil producing countries, with the exception of Venezuela.


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Political deadlock: reduction of the emission of carbonic acid gas depends on international collaboration

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or the researchers from the Institute of Botany, two kinds of intervention, both of them theoretically safe from the environmental point of view, could be tried out in plants, with the purpose of increasing their efficiency in ridding the atmosphere of carbon dioxide. One of the possibilities would be to promote alterations in the plants’ chloroplasts, in the light of the fact that this part of the genome is not, in the immense majority of plant species, passed on hereditarily to the descendants. Another alternative would be to develop gene vaccines or medicines that could be administered to plants temporarily, just for the time deemed necessary, with the objective of acting on their metabolism, thus leading them to a greater production of photosynthesis and assimilation of carbon. Not everyone has approved the ideas of Buckeridge and Aidar. In the following issue the Biota Neotropica magazine, two researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Fábio Rubio Scarano and Eduardo Arcoverde de Mattos, published an article criticizing the proposals of their colleagues from São Paulo.“[The proposals] err for not taking into some important ecological and sociopolitical aspects, such as not being ecologically predictable, the fact there is great potential for carbon being sequestered by non-manipulated

native plants, and the importance of scientific and political sovereignty as far as the theme of global changes is concerned”, wrote Scarano and Arcoverde. Obviously, the knowledge of plant physiology and biotechnology is still not at a level that makes it possible for scientists to go ahead, in the short term, with either one of the two approaches suggested by the two researchers from the Institute of Botany. “But time is running, and if the forecasts are correct, we have only 50 years to decide whether or not we are going to use these methods for manipulating plants”, comments Buckeridge.

THE PROJECT Conservation and Sustainable Usage of the Plant Biodiversity of the Cerrado and the Atlantic Rain Forest: Reserve Carbohydrates and their Role in Establishing and Maintaining Plants in their Natural Habitat MODALITY

Thematic Project COORDINATOR

MARCOS SILVEIRA BUCKERIDGE – Institute of Botany of the State Secretariat for the Environment INVESTMENT

R$ 309,845 and US$ 378,726

Even if the studies of jatoba do not open the way for the development of techniques capable of increasing the capacity of tropical forests for sequestering carbon (dioxide) from the atmosphere, the research with Jatoba will have served another purpose, just as important or more from the botanical point of view: helping to understand the physiology of plant species and serving as a parameter for the possible rearrangements of the flora that may happen as a result of changes of climate. Many international works, almost always with plants from a temperate climate or farm crops, show that deep alterations may be occurring in the biodiversity of the Earth, due to the increase in the levels of CO2 and of the greenhouse effect. A study from the University of Florida recently published in the Global Change Biology magazine, showed, for example, that the yield in a crop of beans is one quarter larger when cultivated at 720 ppm. The same thing also seems to happen with soya planted in CO2 rich environments. In the case of trees from a temperate climate, there are indications that in an environment with high concentrations of CO2, the shade species are going to increase their biomass more than the varieties accustomed to sunlight. The data on the growth of jatoba at 720 ppm of carbon dioxide gives weight, for the time being, to this hypothesis. Incidentally: the variety of jatoba studied at the Institute of Botany is a tropical species that grows in the shade when young, protected from the rays of sun by the crowns of larger trees. Buckeridge and Aidar are now planning experiments with other tropical species, like the species of ipe (Tabebuia spp), glorybushes (Tibouchina spp), pau de jacaré (alligator wood –Piptadenia gonoacantha) and Brazilwood, to see their behavior in environments with high levels of CO2. Another goal is to carry out more complex tests with jatoba, in which, besides the levels of carbon dioxide, temperature and humidity are controlled in the special chambers in which the plants are cultivated. • PESQUISA FAPESP

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SCIENCE PALEONTOLOGY

Theorigin

of mammals Fossils of small species discovered in Rio Grande do Sul could be the closest ancestors to the larger animals of today M ARCOS P IVET TA

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MIGUEL BOYAYAN

Rocks from the Triassic period, with fossils of animals that lived around 210 million years ago: relatives of the mammals PESQUISA FAPESP

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FOTOS MIGUEL BOYAYAN

Brasilodonte: above, left mandible and, at the side, left jaw bone with teeth

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SIRIO J. B. CANÇADO

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ny paleontologist will tell you that the mammals descended from some form of cynodont, a vast group of animals – extinct, just like the dinosaurs – characterized by having craniums and teeth similar to those of our current dogs. The cynodonts belong to the group of synapsids, which served as the transition between the reptiles and the mammals. What has been missing is to know what lineage of the cynodont generated, around 210 million years ago (more or less during the time that the dinosaurs came into being), the first beings with the bone characteristics that define a mammal today: four types of teeth functionally and anatomically differentiated, middle ear with three sound conducting ossicles and a larger more protruding cranium. As pioneers of bringing together these bone traits and probably being warm blooded, as well as having a hairy body and glands for the production of milk for their offspring, these animals were the primordial examples of the future mammals, among them man. Perhaps it will never be precisely determined which species of cynodont took the final step in the direc-

tion of mammals, but paleontologists from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) and the Argentinean Museum of Natural Sciences believe that they have found important pieces to this phylogenetic puzzle. Starting from the analysis of various fossil fragments of small reptiles – of the size of a pen and similar to rats

or wild squirrels – recovered over the last two years in the region of Santa Maria, at around 200 kilometers from the city of Porto Alegre, the capital of state of Rio Grande do Sul, the researchers have identified two new cynodonts – which they have provisionally named Brasiliterio and Brasilodonte – with anatomical characteristics that


MARK A. KLINGER/CMNH

Cranium and mandible of Brasiliterio: the second species to have been discovered

Rock with the teeth of the Brasiliterio: white marks to the right

would place them as the ancestors closest to the primordial mammals. “These pre-mammalian reptiles from Brazil could be a sister group to the mammals”, says the renowned Argentinean paleontologist José Bonaparte, 73 years of age, who discovered the petrified bones of the two species together with researchers from the Institute of Geosciences of UFRGS, at which the researcher is a visitor with a scholarship from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). “These animals, removed from the rocks of the Upper Triassic period – with a geological age estimated at between 230 and 205 million of years ago –, were not mammals, but their evolution was clearly in that direction.” For this reason they received names that place them in this animal group. Brasiliterio means “mammal from Brazil”, whilst the Brasilodonte has the teeth (odon) of a mammal and its post-canines, used for crushing, form four right angles. The majority of the fossils found are complete or partial craniums, with preserved mandibles and teeth. Other bones have been rescued, but not an entire skeleton. Just this month, researchers from UFRGS and technicians

Hadrocodium and its cranium: the oldest representative of today’s mammals

from the Argentinean museum returned to the region of Santa Maria in search of more fossils.

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he comparison of the forms of the cranium, mandible and teeth of these animals with those of the Morganucodon – one of the oldest known mammals (close to 200 million years) with fossil material of good quality and that had fifteen centimeters in length and looked like a wild rat – has turned the southern Brazilian findings into strong candidates of being the best representatives of the cynodonts lineage that ended up in mammals. “The cynodonts of Rio Grande do Sul show a type of carnivore-insectivore dentition, above all in the mandible, comparable to the first mammals”, says Bonaparte. He believes that the Brasiliterio produced descendants which, generation later, could have led both to the primordial mam-

mal Morganucodon and to the Brasilodonte, an animal with a greater number of characteristics of a mammal. In other words, the lineage of the Brasiliterio could have been the ancestor both of synapsids very close to the mammals, and to the first mammals themselves. Brother group - For now, the fossils of the Brasiliterio do not appear to be sensitive to the analyses as profound as those carried out on the Brasilodonte, and the researchers have not gone as far as labeling the mini cynodonts from Rio de Grande do Sul as the father of all the mammals. Instead of emphasizing the notion of a paternal and filial lineage, they prefer a concept more precise from the scientific point of view: that of a brother group. If their theories prove to be correct, the Brasilodonte and the Brasiliterio should take the place of two families of small cynodonts, the tritylodontids and the tritheledontids (also called ictidosaurs), found in various parts of PESQUISA FAPESP

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The tecodino of Santa Maria seum of Natural Sciences of the Zoobotany Foundation of Rio Grande do Sul –, which in 1998 had already participated in the discovery of the first pre-mammal mini cynodonts in the hinterland of Santa Maria, made another startling discovery: they found rich fossil material of a mysterious animal, informally called for now the tecodino. What could this creature have been? The paleontologist Jorge Ferigolo, from the Foundation, still does not know precisely if the petrified bones found in the municipality of Dona Francisca – a complete skeleton, two entire craniums, two partially preserved craniums and four backbones almost intact, as well as parts of a skele-

MIGUEL BOYAYAN

The region of Santa Maria, in the center of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, does not only provide interesting fossils of mini cynodonts that can help to explain the origin of the mammals. From there, there has also come vestiges of the bones of extinct animals of the Triassic period that inhabited the earth between 250 and 205 million years ago. A famous fossil removed from the rocks of the region, for example, is named Staurikosaurus pricei, one of the oldest dinosaurs recovered in the world, whose skeleton, discovered in 1937, is on exhibition at the Museum of Comparable Zoology of Harvard in the United States. More recently, paleontologists from a state institution – the Mu-

ton that seems to be a young example of an enigmatic animal – belonging to the thecodonts, ancestors of the dinosaurs or to the dinosaurs themselves. Or perhaps of an animal that was a transition between two types of reptiles, a hypothesis that inspired the provisional name of tecodino. “We still have to prepare the majority of the fossils – to clean and to separate out the petrified bones encrusted in the rock – and to study them with care”, advised Ferigolo. Though little material has so far been prepared, the fossil fragments of the tecodino that have already been cleaned, reinforce the hypothesis that they are dealing with a hybrid species, with some characteristics of the thecodont and others of the dinosaur. The mysterious animal – that lived some 235 million years ago and should be a

Schultz (left) and Bonaparte (with tie) with UFRGS paleontologists; fertile land

the world and that have battled for some time the elite position of being the brother group closest to animals with hair and warm blood. “Our findings could assist in better understanding the origin of the mammals and to show which lineages of the cynodonts participated in the process of transition of the synapsids in the direction towards this type of animal”, comments the paleontologist Cesar Schultz, of UFRGS, co-author of Bonaparte’s studies on the Gaucho pre-mammal mini synapsids. With an appearance and dimensions similar to those of the Morganucodon, the new cynodonts measured between 9 and 15 centimeters from head to the end of their tail and the length of its cranium varied between 18 and 22 millimeters. Their weight would not have been more than a few hundred grams. The Brasilodonte was about 40% larger than the Brasiliterio. “These animals probably ate insects 32

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and other smaller animals, lived in burrows and had night habits”, says Schultz. They must already have had its body covered with hair, and its paws were strong enough for it to open up burrows in the ground where it sheltered from predators such as the first dinosaurs and other reptiles. The remains of this as yet poorly known mini-fauna

were removed from rocks in paleontologist sites in the Gaucho municipalities of Faxinal do Soturno and Candelária, belonging to the Santa Maria Formation, one of the areas in the State with Triassic sedimentary rocks – an agitated geological period of little more than 40 million years, that occurred between 250 and 205 million years ago.


MIGUEL BOYAYAN

biped of around 2.5 meters in total length – reveals lots of characteristics of having had a backbone that is more or less typical of the dinosaurs. However, they have not as yet been able to determine if its articulation with the femur, in the pelvis, is perforated, a trait characteristic of the dinosaurs. The thecodont side of the animal shows itself in the bone plates that seem to have existed below its skin, more or less as it occurs today in the crocodiles, called osteoderms. Although it had been hoped that they would show these bone plates, so as to place in on

Besides making a comparison of the anatomy of the Rio de Grande do Sul cynodonts with the primordial mammal Morganucodon, the group confronted their findings with the morphology of the Chinese mammal Hadrocodium wui, which lived some 195 million years ago and was also similar to a small rat. Result: the upper teeth of the Brasilodonte and of the Brasiliterio resemble those of the Chinese fossil, whose lowermost teeth measure a total length of two centimeters. The feeling from the comparison comes from the fact that, though animals of the type of Morganucodon are considered to be the first mammals, one does not know with certainty if its descendants generated the current existing lineages. This origin, it would appear, is more probably related to a mammal of the type such as Hadrocodium. The object of a cover article of the North American magazine Science in May of last year, this Asian little animal is considered the potential common ancestor of the three current groups of mammals (a fourth group, that of the multituberculates, has been extinct for 40 million years): the monotremes, which lay eggs and are represented by the duckbill platypus and by two speci-

Bone plates of the backbone of the tecodino: a transition species

the evolutionary scale close to the thecodonts, the oldest types of dinosaurs, of the age of the tecodino, apparently don’t have them. The osteoderms became more common in later dinosaurs.

es of echidna, similar to a hedgehog; the marsupials, such as the possum, the kangaroo and the koala bear, which house and feed their young in a skin pouch; and the placental, more numerous, which include the rodents and elephants, passing through the primates, amongst which there is man. To compare the new Rio Grande do Sul fossils with the Hadrocodium, the most distant descendant of all of the living mammals up until now localized, is a manner of asserting if the Brasiliterio and the Brasilodonte also do not guard some relationship, however remote, with the current animals of hair and warm blood.

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he discoveries have not as yet been formally published, which should occur during this year. In April of 2001, at an informal meeting with researchers from North America at the Museum of Comparative Zoology of Harvard, Bonaparte demonstrated some of the fossils and discussed their peculiarities and the importance of these new species. He stated that the receptivity of his fellow colleagues was good. The proposal that the mini cynodonts from Rio Grande

The region of Santa Maria is so rich in fossil remains that the government of Rio Grande do Sul, by way of the Pro-Guaíba Program, which is carrying out a survey of the potential of this hydrographic basin, has already proposed the creation of a Paleontology Park in the surroundings of the town of Candelária. “The chosen area is already in the phase of being bought over”, explains the paleontologist Ana Maria Ribeiro from the Foundation.

do Sul are the closest parents known to the mammals might appear daring, but Bonaparte – who for the last seventeen years has had the financial support of the North American National Geographic Society for his field work – has the credentials to defend the hypothesis. With more than four decades of research, Bonaparte is one of the best specialists on dinosaurs in the world. Thanks to his work, above all in the Argentinean Patagonia, more than twenty species of dinosaurs typical of the southern hemisphere have been discovered, among them the Amargasaurus, the Argentinosaurus (perhaps the largest in the world with up to twelve meters in height), the Saltasaurus and the Carnotaurus. This last one, a carnivore of 3.5 meters in height, 7.5 meters in length and with two horns, transformed itself into an animated movie personality – in the children’s film Dinosaur, launched in 2000 by Disney. More recently, and without abandoning the dinosaurs, Bonaparte began to study the ancestors of the mammals, which appeared on Earth at the time as these large reptiles and that lived discretely under their shadow for 160 million years. In the Argentine, he found fossils of small synapsids with PESQUISA FAPESP

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Privileged location - The clue to a pe-

trified bone generally does not go beyond a white point – as it contains calcium which is of this color – of the size of a match head on the surface of the 34

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MIGUEL BOYAYAN

mammiferous traces, that could be labeled as distant cousins of Morganucodon. “However, these fossils were of the Lower to Middle Triassic era, between 250 and 230 million years ago”, he ponders. His hope of finding advanced cynodonts, which would make the link between reptiles and mammals, consequently made him move to the South of Brazil, more specifically to the Rio Grande do Sul rocks of the Upper Triassic period. In the middle of 1997, Bonaparte came to work at the Museum of Natural Sciences of the Zoo-botany Foundation of Rio Grande do Sul, in Porto Alegre, famous by its research in the area of paleontology. One year later, at the side of two researchers from the foundation, Jorge Ferigolo and Ana Maria Ribeiro, he gathered together numerous fossil fragments of a new advanced cynodont, named Riograndia guaibensis, in rocky outcrops of Candelária, and described the animal in a scientific paper published in 2001 on the British magazine Palaeontology. A possible ancestor of Brasiliterio and Brasilodonte, the Riograndia could not have mammals as its descendants. “Its teeth are different”, explains the paleontologist Marina Bento Soares from UFRGS. Nevertheless, the localization of lots of petrified remains of this species confirmed the clues that it was worth while exploring the soil of Candelária and of its surroundings. “The fossil potential of the region is extremely high”, comments Ana Maria Ribeiro, who continues to study the pre-mammals of the Rio Grande do Sul Triassic period parallel to the work of Bonaparte, today based at UFRGS. Encrusted and sometimes found in the middle of the reddened rocky sediments of the Santa Maria Formation, the bony remains of these diminutive pre-mammal reptiles are difficult to locate by the untrained eye.

Cleaning a Fossil: care and patience

rock. “We were used to looking for fossils of larger reptiles such as dinosaurs and even cynodonts of larger size”, tells Cesar Schultz. “We had to learn to look at the rock in a different way in the search for these small pre-mammals.” As it is the only place in the country with sedimentary rocks containing fossils of terrestrial vertebrates from the Triassic period, when both the dinosaurs and the mammals came into being, Rio Grande do Sul is a privileged land for prospecting.

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ne of the largest difficulties for studying animals of the transition era is exactly how to classify each fossil into a categorized date – cynodont or mammal, dinosaur or bird. It is common to find nothing more than teeth or fragments of cranium, of difficult identification. In the case of the pre-mammalian reptiles from Rio Grande do Sul, until the fossils found are reasonable abundant and rich in detail. Even though there are well accepted conventions for dealing with the dividing line between species, it is difficult to have unanimity.“The classifications reflect more or less the preferences of each author and are, in some measures, arbitrary”, Schultz says. During the Triassic era, the solid earth was unified in the super continent named Pangaea, whose center was an immense desert. The ice of the polar caps had been melted. In this arid environment, around about 230 to 220 million years ago, the dinosaurs came about, descendants of reptiles of the

group of the thecodonts. Until the end of the Triassic era, in a movement of the renovation of the fauna almost simultaneous to the appearance the dinosaurs, the first mammals, crocodiles and turtles appeared as well as the pterosaurs, flying reptiles also extinct. At this point in time, the fauna and flora were very similar in all places, since there was only one continent. “Animals similar to the mini-cynodonts of Rio Grande do Sul must have existed in other parts of the planet”, comments Bonaparte. It is within this lost world of the Triassic period, more than 200 million years ago, which the researchers are making their efforts to find the most adequate place for the Brasiliterio and the Brasilodonte in the evolutionary tree. How close to the first mammals to these reptiles that remind one of rats? There are two anatomical parameters in the bones that help to demonstrate the distance of one animal in relation to the mammals: the construction of the teeth and of the mandible and the bone composition of the middle ear. Mammals change their teeth only once during their life and have four types of well defined teeth: incisors to bite or to gnaw, canine to tear and molars and pre-molars to chew and to crush. In the reptiles, the substitution of teeth is continuous and lasts the life time and it is impossible to differentiate between preBrasilodonte and the Brasiliterio, the distinction between molars and premolars is as yet not clear and the changing of teeth seems to obey the standard of the reptiles”, comments Bonaparte. In spite of this, the sharp points of the canines resemble those of the primordial mammals, which reinforces the thesis that they have the potential to generate, in lineages yet to come, some form of mammal. The hearing system shows that they were on the correct path, but there were not yet mammals. This is because in the mammals the middle ear, an internal cavity full of air, is composed of three small interconnecting bones: the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup. The middle ear of the cynodonts, among


Frontier dinosaurs

them the Brasiliterio and the Brasilodonte, do not have these bones. Through evolution, the hammer, anvil and stirrup of the middle ear of the mammals were constructed beginning with the bones originally situated in the mandible and in the region of the articulation of the cranium of ancestral reptiles. The mammals always have only a large bone in the mandible and three in the middle ear. It so happens that the reptiles have an articulated mandible on top of various bones and the middle ear is without a hammer, anvil and stirrup. The cynodonts show exactly a transitional standard between these two extremes. “The smaller the number of bones in the mandible of an animal, the closer this animal is to the condition of a ma-

ropod, a large herbivore with a long neck that may well have been more than 13 meters in length”, says Cesar Schultz from UFRGS, who is studying the recently discovered vestiges near the frontier. Another type of footprint was made by paws with three toes, which could have belonged to the carnivorous dinosaurs or to a herbivorous group of the hadrosaurus: in either of the cases, by the size of the footprints, they must have been biped dinosaurs of around three meters in height.

In Uruguay, fossils of fish and dinosaurs have been found in the same rocky layer in which now flourish the remains of reptiles on the Brazilian side of the division. For this reason the researchers are going to make exploratory expeditions into the region, in the hope of rescuing the bones of the authors of the footprints. The rocky layer that preserves the tracks is below the type of rock that forms the Botucatu sandstone, whose top layer is dated at 134 million years ago, back in the Cretaceous period, nonetheless, whose base could still be placed at the end of the Jurassic era. It is possible that we are dealing with a sedimentary block of the last stage of the Jurassic period or the first stage of the Cretaceous era, a period that did not have known layers in Rio Grande do Sul. CLAITON SCHERER

A new archeological site is gaining fame in the state of Rio Grande do Sul: the municipality of Santana do Livramento, in the west, on the frontier with Uruguay. Here, some 500 kilometers from the city of Porto Alegre, researchers from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) and from the University of the Vale do Rio dos Sinos (Unisinos) found during 2001 and in January of this year various types of dinosaurs at the side of a road where the earth was being moved and leveled. By their format, they belong to two forms that must have lived between 144 and 137 millions of years ago, at the end of the Jurassic era the beginning of the Cretaceous era, when the dinosaurs dominated the scenario. A type of footprint, which went as far as leaving trails, resembling elephant tracks, each one of 40 centimeters on average. “These tracks must have come from a sau-

Footprint with marks of three toes: probably a teropod (carnivore) or a hadrosaurus (herbivore)

mmal”, compares Schultz. The fossils from Rio de Grande do Sul still have more than one bone in the mandible, denoting their pre-mammal character. The discovery of the new brothers of the warm blooded animals also puts in check a common idea about the animals which made up the bridge between the cynodonts and the mammals: that there had been a miniaturization of this group of reptiles before the first mammals were derived. Based on the evidence of the fossils from Rio de

Grande do Sul, Bonaparte disagrees: the fauna of the cynodonts, even before the origin of the Morganucodon and other primordial mammals, were already of various sizes, some with more than 1.5 meters in length and others with only a few centimeters as in the case of the Brasilodonte and the Brasiliterio. Therefore, there was no need to diminish in size in order to become mammals. For him, something distinctive occurred: there were large and small cynodonts, but only one of these small ones evolved into the mammals. “With these Gaucho fossils, we can better understand this process of transition”, emphasizes Bonaparte. “And, in many cases, better understand and substitute theories.” • PESQUISA FAPESP

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SCIENCE

MEDICINE

Malaria and some new diseases São Paulo scientists make Rondonia a forward post for research with a high social impact M ARCOS P IVET TA PHOTOS EDUARDO CESAR

R Danger at nightfall: children from the Triunfo, district, in Rondônia, bathing at the time of day that the Anopheles mosquito, which transmits malaria, usually attacks

esearch into tropical diseases is experiencing an unique moment in Rondônia. Yes, the old federal territory, strongly colonized by immigrants from the south of the country in the Sixties and Seventies, raised to the status of a state only 21 years ago, has been producing some cutting edge studies, when the subject is malaria, leishmaniasis and other disorders, old or emergent, transmitted to man by a host of insects, mosquitoes and ticks infected by bacteria, viruses and parasites of all sorts. It was, for example, on the banks of the Madeira river, at Portochuelo, a district of Porto Velho, one hour away by boat from the urban area of the capital of Rondônia, that researchers from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the University of São Paulo (ICB/USP), which for five years has been maintaining a forward post for studies in the hinterland of the state, and from the Center for Research into Tropical Medicine (Cepem), of Porto Velho, obtained, in 1999, the confirmation of an old suspicion about one of the characteristics of malaria in Brazil that makes it difficult to control this endemic disease. The scientists showed, unequivocally, that there are in the Amazon basin asymptomatic carriers of Plasmodium vivax, a protozoon that causes around 80% of the cases of the disease in Brazil – the other 20% are caused, in their majority, by the Plasmodium falciparum, the most aggressive species of the malaria parasite, which kills between 1 and 2 million persons every year, above all children, in Africa, and, in an almost insignificant percentage, by the Plasmodium malariae. The definitive confirmation that there have been and there are victims of P. vivax without any malaria symptom PESQUISA FAPESP

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The red cloth in front of the house: an indication that there is a case of malaria suspected: a sign for the motor bike rider from the town hall to stop and collect blood to be examined

was obtained with the use of a more accurate molecular method than the everyday laboratory test used to diagnose the disease: the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technique, which amplifies the DNA of the parasites and makes it possible to identify the species which the live protozoons in the sick person’s blood belong to, even in the smallest of quantities. The work had an international repercussion and yielded an article in the English magazine, The Lancet, one of the most famous medical publications in the world.

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ocating asymptomatic malaria cases in Rondônia is perhaps the greatest scientific achievement of the two research centers set up in that state, which carry out studies both jointly and separately. But it is not the only one. The Amazonian nucleus of the ICB has found strong evidence of an as yet unknown species of a protozoon of the Leishmania genus, which could be a new causal agent of American tegumentary leishmaniasis, (ATL) and infectious disease that every year attacks the mucous tissues of 28,000 Brazilians, from the north to the south of the country. In Monte Negro, a municipality 250 kilometers to the south of Porto Velho where the base of the ICB operates, researchers

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also found an extremely high level – one of the highest in the world – of a little diagnosed skin disease, chromoblastomicosis. They also identified a new kind of tick of the Amblyomma genus, which is found in terrestrial animals, above all the Brazilian tapirs (Tapir terrestris), which may transmit some disease to man. “In Rondônia, almost everything is new, and there is much to be researched”, says Erney Plessmann de Camargo, aged 66, the former professor of the ICB, recently appointed as a director of the Butantan Institute and the coordinator of a project that has the objective of surveying the fauna of ticks in Rondônia and to confirm the prevalence in these arthropods of three geni of potentially pathogenic bacteria, Rickettsia, Borrelia and Erlichia. Plessmann is the co-author of the article on the discovery of asymptomatic the malaria plasmodium in Rondônia, along with Fabiana Alves (ICB) and Luiz Hildebrando Pereira da Silva, Cepem’s scientific director and a world authority on tropical diseases. A former director of two departments of the Pasteur Institute in France, Luiz Hildebrando bears, possibly, the main responsibility for Rondônia having been put onto the map of Brazilian research. “We believe that these symptom-free persons may show immunity to malaria and act as di-


sease hosts”, says the veteran parasitologist, who has dedicated over four decades to science. In the view of the ICB and Cepem specialists’ views, identifying and treating the asymptomatic carriers of P. vixax is just as important for holding back malaria advance as putting into practice the traditional control measures for this endemic disease: combating the transmitting agent, the so-called vector (in Brazil, female Anopheles darlingi mosquitoes infected with the plasmodium) and to medicate as quickly as possible the symptomatic cases. Studying the asymptomatic ones is also a way of understanding the mechanisms involved in the apparent natural immunity acquired by these people, which may be useful for the development of a vaccine against malaria from P. vivax, a dream that is at least one decade away, in Luiz Hildebrando’s opinion. “The majority of research projects for a vaccine against malaria works with cases of infection caused by P. falciparum’’, he says. Incidentally, the genome of the falciparum was recently sequenced by an international consortium of laboratories (see article on page 40). In a pilot venture in terms of the Amazon region, researchers from Cepem swill start before the end of this month the identification and treatment of asymptomatic malaria cases in Vila Candelária,

a district of Porto Velho, also on the banks of the Madeira river, though much closer to the city than the Portochuelo district. The riverside community of Candelária, where the tracks of the legendary Madeira-Mamoré Railroad pass, lies ten minutes by automobile from the paved part of the capital of Rondonia – a city with 330,000 inhabitants, spread over a flat area of more than 34,000 square kilometers, 20 times larger than the city of São Paulo – and Candelária is visited at weekends by a floating population of holiday makers coming from the more urban part of Porto Velho. Doctors make the difference - In the village, where 260 fixed inhabitants live, studies by Cepem show that 30% of the residents carry P. vivax in their blood, but they do not have the malaria symptoms (a temperature of up to 40° C and continuous sweating , from two to four hours), not to mention that 40% have both things, the plasmodium and the clinical manifestations. “Treating the asymptomatic may change the fate of malaria”, says Mauro Shugiro Tada, from São Paulo, and Cepem’s head doctor. Tada moved to Rondonia 17 years ago, with the intention of researching tropical diseases in a center, which was the embryo of his current place of work, in Costa Marques, PESQUISA FAPESP

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Human bait: trainees from USP capture mosquitoes (featured, Anopheles) with time of day, temperature and humidity monitored

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on the frontier with Bolivia, where, he says,“there is malaria even up the papaya trees”. Talking about malaria in Brazil is actually talking about malaria in the Amazon region, a region that concentrates over 99% of the Brazilian cases of the illness. In 2001, according to partial data from the National Health Foundation (Funasa), there were 340,000 cases of malaria in the country and 85 deaths. In Rondônia, the number of cases lay in the region of 50,000. In 2000, the number of patients in the whole country reached 610,000, with 240 deaths. However bad our health system is – and in the Amazon basin, it is even worse than in other parts of the country –, Brazil’s reality is still clearly better than Africa’s is, and that mitigates the burden of the endemic diseases over here. “Our severe malaria is different from the African one”, says Luiz Hildebrando, who has already caught the disease in Senegal and is a carrier of Trypanosoma cruzi, though without suffering from Chagas disease.“The medical service there is much worse, and the favorite victims of falciparum are children, and this frequently causes complications in the brain and death. Here, it is the adults who catch malaria, usually farmers or gold-diggers or people who live on river banks, and problems with the brain are rare”. There are few doctors in the rural areas of Amazon basin, but by walking a few ■

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kilometers it is possible to find some minimally competent medical attention, says the scientist. In Africa, the walk usually leads nowhere. In spite of his commitments in São Paulo, Erney Plessman goes to the Amazon forest. “In Rondônia, we have the spirit of a sentinel, to monitor old diseases, the emerging ones and those that are re-emerging”, he sums up. “You never know when something different may appear, like a case of Ebola”. Until now, there are no confirmed reports of victims of this mysterious virus, which causes a hemorrhagic fever capable of killing the patient in days. The researchers from USP and Cepem are not working in Rondônia with the specific intention of looking for cases of Ebola. But as the natural habitat of the virus is the African and Asian rain forests, it makes sense to think that its existence may extend to Brazil and our tropical forests. Like boy scouts, therefore, they always have to be alert. Exposed to mosquitoes - Even when he cannot travel, Plessmann knows that the tick project is in good hands, in those of his 40 year old son, Luís Marcelo Aranha Camargo, the coordinator of the ICB’s Advanced Research Nucleus. With two kinds of malaria in his curriculum – Monte Negro has a high incidence both of malaria and of American tegumentary leishmaniasis –, Camargo stays the greater part of the year in Rondônia. He comes to São Paulo to give lessons and guidance to his students, on average, every 45 days. In the town of 12,000 inhabitants, where electricity cuts and dead


In Monte Negro, On the banks of the Jamari river, collecting goes on: ticks like the probable new species of Amblyomma (above) stick to the flannel

animals. It is a mistake to think that the disease is present only in the Amazon basin. Spotted fever is an endemic disease even in areas of São Paulo, such as the Campinas area, where it has altelephones are hardly a novelty, one of his tasks is to coordinate a systematic job of capturing the diseases vectors, mosquitoes and ticks. Often, in the search for a mosquito, the so-called human bait is used: a fleshy uncovered leg is offered to the insect by a member of staff or trainee. The method involves the risk of an insect bite, but it works. The ICB has already captured over 80,000 mosquitoes, and, with other techniques, 10,000 ticks.

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t was collecting vectors in the forest that Camargo’s team caught samples of the candidate to a new species of tick, extremely similar to Amblyomma incisum. The ICB researchers are looking for evidence that ticks, besides mosquitoes, are transmitters still little studied of a number of diseases, old or emerging, to animals and to human beings. In many cases, this relationship is still obscure. In others, it is now known. This is the case of spotted fever, caused by the Rickettsia rickettsii bacterium, transmitted to man by the star tick (Amblyomma cajennense), common in horses and other wild

ready caused some deaths. Besides the candidate for a new tick, Camargo’s permanent team in Monte Negro and Jeffrey Shaw, a researcher based in the ICB’s offices in São Paulo, also identified in patients with American tegumentary leishmaniasis what seems to a species not yet described in the scientific literature of the parasite that causes the disease. Until now, it is known that six species of protozoons of the Leishmania genus, transmitted to man by mosquitoes of the Lutzomyia genus, unleash in Brazil the skin infection in people: Leishmania braziliensis, L. amazonensis, L. guyanensis (the three most important), L. lainsoni, L. naiffi and L. shawi.“We have strong evidence that we have discovered a seventh species of the parasite that also causes tegumentary leishmaniasis”, says Camargo. In his studies on the disease, the head of the ICB’s Amazonian nucleus also enjoys the help of a doctor, Sérgio Basano, to whom he gave guidance for his master’s degree at USP, and one of the members of the institute’s team in Rondônia, which can use two laboratories and a small rural area for field research. PESQUISA FAPESP

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José Máximo, a fisherman from Vila Candelária: treatment for asymptomatic carriers of the Plasmodium may change the course of malaria

The scientist who traded the Seine for the Madeira When he left behind a brilliant 32year career on French soil and his last job at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, as head of the Experimental Parasitology unit, Luiz Hildebrando Pereira da Silva – or Professor Hildebrando, as he is usually called – started his much dreamt of returning to his native land, with the intention of giving priority to the study of the molecular, clinical and epidemiological aspects of complications arising from severe cases of malaria, the ones caused by P. falciparum. In 1997, then nearing the age of 70, he speeded up his retirement from the Pasteur and sat for an examination to be appointed professor of the ICB/USP. He passed, and instead of working on one of the campuses located in the state of São Paulo, set himself up in Porto Velho. After all, at the beginning of the Nineties, Rondônia, with its 1.2 million inhabitants (less than 1% of the population of Brazil) had an attractive profile for working with malaria – it concentrated half the cases in the country, between 250,000 and 300,000 cases a year. One quarter of the cases in the three Americas.

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Today, five years after having traded the banks of the Seine for those of the Madeira, and now retired from USP, though active with Cepem and with his studies of malaria partly financed by FAPESP, Luiz Hildebrando has not entirely succeeded in achieving his goal. This is because the cases of malaria from P. falciparum in Rondônia, around 20% of the total of cases in the state, have become scarce in Cepem’s area of activity. Or rather, the complications arising from the severe cases have become rare. In a universe of 1,500 cases of the illness, caused by the action of P. falciparum, that passed through the hands of Cepem’s researchers over a period of two years, only two patients ended up showing severe complications as a result of the disease. The moral of the story: the simple presence of the teams from Cepem, eager to understand the peculiarities of Brazilian malaria – and well trained in diagnosing and treating the disorder, and intervening rapidly in the more severe cases that can lead to death or to cause permanent damages – has made the object of the parasitologist’s study dwindle.

A confessed communist and a committed scientist, Luiz Hildebrando, born in Santos, São Paulo, but almost as French as he is Brazilian, is far from being a common scientist. To start with his age, 73. At this stage of life, people think more of retirement than of work, but Professor Hildebrando, who looks ten years younger, almost always does his stint at Cepem at the weekends. In reality, he is now officially retired. Three times, indeed. Once in France, from the Pasteur Institute, in 1997, after three decades of services rendered. And twice in Brazil, both times from USP: the first in 1980, through an administrative act that was a sort of reparation for having been twice turned away from the university during the military dictatorship, and the second in 1998, one year after having returned to USP, via the examination for incumbent professor, when he reached 70, the maximum age for a public servant. Before anyone thinks that this great parasitologist is a maharajah (ironic definition used in Brazil for public servant who make a lot of money) of the civil service, it has to be said that the


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lso in Monte Negro, the researchers found an extremely high occurence of an almost unknown skin disease caused by fungi found in animal remains and forest detritus; it is called chromoblastomycosis, and is rarely diagnosed, since it is often mistaken for American tegumentary leishmaniasis, which causes skin lesions. Amongst the inhabitants of the town, ten occurrences of the diseases, which also causes skin lesions, were identified between 1997 and 2001. “This gives an annual rate of incidence of 1.6 cases of the disease per 10,000 inhabitants, the highest in the world, and it suggests that chromoblastomycosis ought to be highly prevalent in the neighboring municipalities as well”, says Camargo. The country that shows the highest level of chromoblastomycosis is Madagascar, with 1.2 cases per 10,000 inhabitants. To study tropical diseases, scientists obviously have to have direct access to cases of these maladies. In Porto Velho, many sick people, when they feel a higher temperature, which may be a symptom of malaria, spontaneously seek the services of Cepem in Porto Velho. Last year, 18,000 patients were exa-

mined there, to see if they had this illness. And seven thousand of them did have malaria. The diagnosis for the other eleven thousand was inconclusive – laboratory tests were unable to establish the cause of the problem, an indication that there is a fertile field for anyone wanting to study new diseases in Rondônia. In little Monte Negro, the population has also got used now to the permanent presence of researchers from the ICB/USP and from other universities, who regularly provide medical assistance, helping the local authority in the task of taking care of its inhabitants. But it not always that the patients manage or are able to go to meet the researchers. The scholars from Cepem and the ICB then have to go regularly into the field, visiting areas where the access is more difficult. Even though on many trips, instead of finding some rare disease, the researchers do no more than practice good general medicine on the needy population – something rare in the poorer regions of Amazon region. Rondônia, for example, does not run any higher education course in medicine, and has one doctor for roughly every 2,200 inhabitants.

Luiz Hildebrando: admirable scientific rigor, social vision and fine sense of humor

last pension, the one for old age, earns him around R$ 30 a month. “But there is enough to lead a good life and to go to France once a year”, says Luiz Hildebrando, who, for his work with Cepem, is rewarded with a grant for a visiting researcher from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq). Why go to France, if you have spent so much time next to the Eiffel Tower? Well, his wife and the majority of his children (and

grandchildren) live there, and the scientist sees them for only three months of the year – the other nine months he spends in Porto Velho, studying malaria and other tropical diseases. “In future, I will gradually increase the months I spend in France, and reduce the time I stay in Brazil”, says the researcher, who recently launched his second book of memories, Crônicas de Nossa Época – Chronicles of Our Time (Editora Paz e Terra).

If he does so, his colleagues at Cepem will miss him. They all admire him. Professor Hildebrando is the kind of researcher, with his undeniable technical competence and charisma for forming and leading groups, that is difficult to replace. Even though at times his scientific rigor may seem excessively European to Brazilians, a people that loves ways round things and ruses, and to Latinos in general. “If it is to be done the way Professor Hildebrando wants, following the scientific method, it is better not to do it at all” is the comment by Juan Abel Rodrigues, 26 years old, a Bolivian from Cochabamba, who is studying for his master’s degree at Cepem, with a grant from Capes. “But this is what I most like about him.” Oh, the professor also has a sense of humor, in his own way. At the end of January, on the day that followed the Brazilian football team’s 6 – 0 win over Bolivia, in a game played in Goiânia, told Juan that Bolivia was the world champion in football. Football played at an altitude of 3,000 meters, of course. A reference to the fact that Juan’s team only handles the ball well when the game is played in Bolivian towns at a high altitude, which leaves the visiting teams indisposed.

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Plessmann on the banks of the Madeira river: "You never know when something different may appear, like a case of Ebola"

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least one doctor for every thousand persons. São Paulo has one doctor for each 500 inhabitants. “The situation of malaria and of health in general would be much better in Rondônia just with an increase in the number of doctors in the state to something like one professional for every 1,000 or 1,500 inhabitants”, says Luiz Hildebrando. That is why giving assistance to the rural communities, besides being a good source of input for scientific studies, is looked on as a moral duty by the researchers. A day in the field may be more or less like this. Around 8:30, Rui Durlacher, a 34 year old doctor from São Paulo, and Jussara Brito, a nurse from

Rio Grande do Sul, of the same age, board the pick-up truck run by Cepem, which occupies a wing that used to belong to the Center for Tropical Medicine in Rondônia (Cemetron), one of the state-owned hospitals, on the outskirts of Porto Velho. At this time of day, there is already a movement of people with fever looking for a service that works only there, day and night, every day of the year: pricking a finger and taking a drop of blood, which indicates whether there is one more case of malaria, or dengue, or whatever else. But these are not the patients that lead the pair to settle into the automobile when the driver starts the engine. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Durlacher and Jussara go to the municipality of Candeias, specifically to the

Genome that causes severe malaria deciphered Six years of work and US$ 20 million were needed to decipher the genome of one of the four plasmodia that cause malaria. In February, English researchers from the Sanger Center and Americans from the Institute for Genomic Research (Tigr) concluded the sequencing of the genome of the Plasmodium falciparum, which causes the majority and the most severe cases of malaria in the world, 90% of which are concentrated in Africa (1 to 2 million

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deaths a year, above all of children). For a protozoon, of just one cell, P. facilparum shows a complex genetic code, more like the genome of an animal than of a bacterium. The 25 million base pairs of its DNA contain 5,600 genes, one sixth of the quantity found in man. The study of the functions of these bacteria and of the proteins produced by them may be vital for research into new drugs against the disease. In Brazil, there are three causal agents

of the disease: P. vivax (80% of the cases), P. malariae (less than 1%) and P. falciparum itself (around 20%). In Africa, P. falciparum is transmitted to man mainly by the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, eradicated from Brazil, the genome of which is being sequenced by an international consortium of laboratories, amongst which the Onsa network (Organization for the Sequencing and Analysis of Nucleotides), set up by FAPESP.


Doctor Rui Durlacher, from São Paulo, examines 62 year old Perpétua Severiano, who has high blood pressure: assistance is the researchers’ moral duty

rural district of Triunfo, with 2,700 residents, the majority with countless attacks of malaria, not to mention other health problems. The journey lasts about an hour and a half, with quick stops at the modest health post in Candeias – there is no hospital in the center of the municipality, which has 13,000 inhabitants, including those from Triunfo – and at an office of Funasa by the roadside of the federal highway BR 364. The trip to the final destination covers 110 kilometers, 80 on the federal highway, which is even well kept in this stretch, and 30 on a dirt road, called a line, in the jargon of the region.

I

n the words of 42-year old Antonio Eusébio da Silva, four times a victim of malaria, who comes from Minas Gerais and now administers the urban area of Triunfo: “The name for health in Triunfo is Cepem and Doctor Rui. If they leave here, we are in trouble”. Durlacher explains that the district – in spite of being home to less than one quarter of the population of Candeias, – accounted for almost half the cases of malaria of the municipality a few years ago. Today, there are inhabitants who have not caught the disease for over two years. At the nucleus, Durlacher and Jussara pass by the local health post. They talk to the staff, take care of patients, and get back on board the pick-up en route for the lesser lines of Triunfo, the narrowest and most pot-holed local road that lead to the most far-flung communities. On a productive day, they visit at least six houses, to follow up the progress of the various clinical conditions. They look

after any health problem that arises: high blood pressure in the aged, undernourishment and diarrhea in children, the evolution of a pregnancy, a baby that has been too long in the sun and got burnt. “We do not chose the patient”, comments Jussara, in the best general practice. At dusk, now time to go back to base, it is not uncommon for the researchers to come across a scene similar to the photograph that begins this article: children and adults refreshing themselves innocently in a creek or lagoon. Precisely at the time, the end of the day, and in the place, on the riverside, that the mosquito that transmits malaria in Amazon region, Anopheles darlingi, likes to bite its victims. It is probable that red cloths will shortly be hung outside the houses of the formerly happy bathers, as a sign used by the inhabitants to advise the motor bike riders from the town hall, who pass by there periodically, that there are folks with a high temperature and under suspicion of malaria in that house, in need of a blood test urgently. •

THE PROJECTS Survey of the tick fauna of Rondônia and Determining the Prevalence of Rickettsia, Erlichia and Borrelia in these arthropods MODALITY

Thematic project COORDINATOR

ERNEY FELÍCIO PLESSMANN CAMARGO – ICB/USP INVESTMENT

R$ 410,079.07

Variant antigens of Plasmodium Falciparum: Participation of the Phenomenon of Cytoadherence and Repercussions in the Pathogeny of severe Malaria MODALITY

Regular research benefit line COORDINATOR

LUIZ HILDEBRANDO PEREIRA DA SILVA – ICB/USP INVESTMENT

R$ 392,269.81

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TECHNOLOGY NEW MATERIALS

Sugar plastic A Brazilian product is improved and goes after on the international market Y URI VASCONCELOS


MIGUEL BOYAYAN

Pellets: small bioplastic pellets that serve as raw material for the transforming industry to mold them into various types of products


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LUIZIANA FERREIRA DA SILVA/IPT

S

ugar and alcohol are no longer the only products of commercial importance extracted from sugarcane. Now, also joining this pair is the production of a biodegradable plastic from sugar. Since December of 2000, the company PHB Industrial, belonging to the Irmãos Biagi group, in the town of Serrana (SP), and to the Balbo group from Sertãozinho (SP), have had the capacity to monthly produce through a pilot plant between four and five tons of biopolymer from the sucrose present in sugar. All of the production obtained at the company’s industrial plant, built at the side of the Usina da Pedra mill in Serrana, is being exported to countries such as the United States, Germany and Japan. “We intend to start our commercial operation between 2004 and 2005 with the construction of a plant with the capacity of producing 10,000 tons per year of bioplastic”, says the physicist Sylvio Ortega Filho, responsible for the development of biodegradable plastic at PHB, a company that received funding through FAPESP’s Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE) program. “We do not know of another industrial complex in the world that has commercial production of this type of bioplastic resin”, says Ortega Filho. The development of the technology for this polymer, that undergoes rapid decomposition by microorganisms when it is discarded on landfills, rubbish dumps or exposed to an environment with active bacteria, is the result of a very successful partnership between the Technology Research Institute (IPT), the Cooperative of Sugarcane, Sugar and Alcohol Producers in the State of São Paulo (Copersucar) and the Biomedical Sciences Institute (ICB) of the University of São Paulo (USP). The first studies on the theme were carried out at the beginning of the 90s, and ten years later, the country is being recognized as having one of the most advanced centers in research and development into bioplastics in the world. The technology led the area to further advance. This was the development of a process that facilitates obtaining this polymer from hydrolyzed sugarcane bagasse, the waste product of the alcohol and sugar industry. The project, also financed through FAPESP, was coordi-

Ralstonia eutropha transform sugars into intracellular granules (the polymer) used by them as energy reserve

nated by the researcher Luiziana Ferreira da Silva, a biochemist with the Biotechnology Group within the IPT, which made up part of the team that created the bioplastic. The hydrolysis process (the structural breaking up of the product) releases the sugars present in the bagasse that can be consumed by bacteria used in the process of the transformation of sugar in this type of natural polyester. However, the hydrolysis also induced the formation of toxic compounds for the bacteria. The IPT developed a procedure for detoxifying the hydrolyzed material and making possible its use by the microorganisms. “With this process it is possible to manufacture the same biopolymer already being exported, which received the name of polyhydroxybutyrate or simply PHB, from the sugar extracted from the bagasse”, explains Luiziana. The difference between the technique created by Luiziana and the previous one, developed jointly with IPT, Copersucar and USP, that is being used by the PHB company, is in the raw material used. While Luiziana makes use of xylose (a sugary substance contained in the sugarcane bagasse), the previous process, the research of which was coordinated by professor José Geraldo Pradella of IPT, makes use of the saccharose present in the sugar. The researcher also identified two new bacteria (Burkholderia sacchari and

Burkholderia cepacia), the first until that moment unknown, highly efficient in the process of the synthesis and production of bioplastic through the hydrolysis of the bagasse. The sacchari bacterium can also be used to produce PHB from molasses or saccharose. The physical and mechanical characteristics of biodegradable plastic are similar to some synthetic polymers, which use petroleum derivatives as their raw material, but offers the benefit of being decomposed much more rapidly after it has been thrown away than conventional plastics. “This is the great advantage of the product” says Luiziana. While the packaging made from Polyethylene Terephthalate – called PET and mainly used for soft drinks – takes more than two hundred years to degrade, and the traditional plastics, more than one hundred years, the biodegradable plastic resins decompose in approximately twelve months, depending on the environment in which they find themselves. In septic tanks the loss in mass of around 90% occurs in six months, while in landfills the degradation reaches 50% in two hundred and eighty days. When they decompose they turn themselves into carbon dioxide and water, without releasing any toxic residues. Energy reserve - The start of the production process of PHB, used in the pilot plant, begins with the cultivation of


bacteria of the species Ralstonia eutropha inside bioreactors impregnated with sugars (sucrose, glycose, etc.) as the raw material. The microorganisms feed on these sugars and transform them into intercellular granules (very small solid lumps) that are in truth polyesters. “For the bacteria, these polyesters (the biodegradable plastics) are an energy reserve, similar in nature to the fat reserve in mammals”, says Luiziana. The next stage in the production process is the extraction and purification of PHB accumulated in the bacteria. Using an organic solvent (which does not provoke damage to the environment when discarded), the breakdown of the cellular walls of the microorganisms is brought about along with the natural liberation of the biopolymer granules. Calculations carried out in the laboratory point towards obtaining one kilogram of plastic for every three kilograms of sugar.

T

he PHB can be used as a raw material in a wide field of applications, mainly in those sectors in which characteristics such as purity and biodegradability are necessary. It may be used in the manufacturing of packaging material for cleaning, hygiene, cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. Also it can be used to produce bags and containers for fertilizers and insecticides, vases for seedlings and injection mold products such as toys and school material. Furthermore, since it is biocompatible and easily absorbed by the human body, it can be useful in the area of medical pharmaceutical products, as thread for stitches, bone prostrates and capsules that gradually liberate medicine into the blood stream. “Thanks to its property of acting as a barrier to gases, the bioplastic can also be used in food packaging of paper cartons such as those used in “long life” milk, for storing natural juices, pasteurized milk and isotonic drinks”, says Ortega Filho. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the organ that oversees the food and drug sectors in the United States, has already approved the use of PHB biodegradable plastic in food packaging. For the production of more flexible artifacts, such as shampoo bottles, or those that need the process of extrusion via a blower, such as plastic

bags, the researchers have already developed another product of the same family, a type of polymer named PHBHV (polyhydroxybutyrate –hydroxyvalerate), produced from sugar and propionic acid. The main difficulty in the development of PHB is centered around the right choice of bacteria. “In order to find the ideal bacterium, which gives a better transformation of the sugar into plastic, we tested more than fifty species until we arrived at the two most adequate strains, in this case the species Burkholderia sacchari and Burkholderia cepacia”, Luiziana reports, who completed her study during the first semester of this year. The two microorganisms attained the best performances as a function of velocity and growth rate, efficiency in converting the xylose into PHB and the capacity of accumulating the polymer. In order to increase the production of the bioplastic, the bacteria were and continue to be submitted to techniques of genetic improvement. “The advantage of this new technology is in the transformation of a waste product of the sugarcane/alcohol industry, in this case bagasse, into top quality material, bioplastics”, Luiziana says. Currently between 60% and 90% of the bagasse (of an annual total of 81 million tons) produced by the mills, is used in the generation of electrical energy. The surplus of this waste product, which during 1999 reached some eight million tons, causes serious problems of stocking and environmental pollution. “The use of bagasse to produce PHB will minimize these problems”, says the researcher. The technique of obtaining PHB through bacteria is not new. It has been know since the start of the 20th century. However, the commercial use of this polymer has not been implemented due to the high costs involved in its production. The merit of the Brazilian researchers has been in managing to considerably reduce this cost when compared with the biodegradable products synthesized in the United States and Europe. There, they are manufactured only in pilot plants and in laboratories starting from other sources of raw material such as beet root and corn sugar. This reduction occurred mainly as a function of the low cost of growing the sugarcane, which inclu-


MIGUEL BOYAYAN

Utensils made with biodegradable plastic: varied market and similar to commun plastic

des the cheap electrical energy produced through the sugarcane bagasse. “For this reason, to have a competitive price, the ideal situation is to have a biodegradable plastic production unit working alongside a sugar/alcohol mill”, Ortega Filho of PHB explains.

E

ven with a reduction in costs, biodegradable plastic is still more expensive than conventional plastic. “A kilo of synthetic polymer costs around US$ 1, while the PHB one is in the region of US$ 4 or US$ 5, depending on its application”, explains Ortega Filho. In spite of this difference in price, it is considered to be competitive, mainly in the external market. For example, in the United States, Japan and some European countries, recycling is mandatory, with as well the need by the polymer manufacturing industry to prove that recycling has been carried out effectively. The costs of these stages are not included in the cost of the plastic. In Brazil, the calculation of this cost considers the purchase of the resin and its transformation. Neither the worry nor the effective cost of recycling exist. For example, over the next sixty years, Germany intends to substitute at

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least 60% of the synthetic plastic internally consumed with biodegradable polymers. Among other things, this measure is looking to solve the problem of landfills in the country. The long stay of synthetic plastics at these locations brings with it serious environmental problems, because they form an impermeable layer that blocks the passage of liquids and gases originating from the deterioration of the waste material, stalling the stabilization of the organic material. The problem is worrying when one knows that they represent around 20% of all of the urban rubbish in Brazil. According to Luiziana, another advantage of biodegradable plastic resins is that they are produced from renewable resources, while the conventional ones use petroleum derivatives as their raw material, a non-renewable source. Production of pellets - The world’s plastics market is something in the order of 200 million tons per year. According to estimates by various specialists, the share of this market that may be occupied by bioplastics is around 1% to 2% over the next ten years. And the PHB company wants to participate in this slice. “However, in order for this to be possible, we firstly need to conclude

the development of technology for the production of pellets that will be sold for transformation”, he explains. Pellets are small cylindrical solids of some millimeters in length made starting a mixture of granulated resin of PHB with other polymers or natural fibers. They are the raw material being used by the industry, that transform them into useful articles. “The industry does not buy pure PHB. It wants what it is ready to be transformed into the final product”, says Ortega Filho. In order to engineer the pellets, the company PHB Industrial has made a cooperation and research agreement with the Materials Engineering Department (DeMa), of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), and obtained funding of R$ 338,000 from FAPESP through the PIPE program. Kicked off in 2001, the project is expected to extend until next year. The resources have been in the purchase of basic equipment in polymer technology, with an eye on manufacturing pellets.“We purchased a fluid index measurer and equipment for universal testing for analyzing traction, flexibility and compression”, Ortega Filho says. “By the end of the year, we’ll have received an extrusion machine, with which we can carry out studies to develop the


MIGUEL BOYAYAN

The PHB Industrial company: by 2005, the company should be producing 10,000 tons of bioplastic per year

product with the characteristics that the market demands.” All of this apparatus will be installed at UFSCar, in a laboratory as yet to be built. “FAPESP’s resources are essential for the commercial viability of Biocycle, the commercial name given by us to PHB”, says the materials engineer Jefter Fernandes do Nascimento, the coordinator of the PIPE project. In the meantime the 60 tons of Biocycle produced at PHB Industrial are being sent mainly to companies and research centers abroad, which are also

working on the development of pellets. “We’re exporting to centers in the United States and in Europe, such as the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, and the North American company Metabolix, whose owners are researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)”, says Ortega Filho.“They’re doing exactly the same as us: attempting to find the ideal pellet for each application.” The good point is that the PHB company is ahead, and, if all goes well, the company will shortly be exporting biodegradable plastic pellets. •

THE PROJECTS Obtaining and Classification of Environmentally Degradable Polymers (PAD) Starting from Renewable Sources: Sugarcane

Obtaining Bacteria Lineages and the development of Technology for the Production of Biodegradable Plastic Starting from the Hydrolysis of Sugarcane Bagasse

MODALITY

Small Business Innovation Research (PIPE) program COORDINATOR

JEFTER FERNANDES PHB Industrial

MODALITY

Regular Line of Research Assistance COORDINATOR

DO

NASCIMENTO –

LUIZIANA FERREIRA

DA

SILVA – IPT

INVESTMENT INVESTMENT

R$ 338,840.00

R$52,133.47 and US$ 19,645.00


TECHNOLOGY

CIVIL ENGINEERING

Expanded

concrete Researcher finds in aluminum slag a new ingredient for producing mortar

Bricks made of cellular concrete: aerated mortar with the same resistance as common blocks 52

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EDUARDO CESAR


EDUARDO CESAR

Slag: 11,000 tons put to good use

B

y bringing together concrete and aluminum slag, metallurgical engineer Edval Gonçalves de Araújo has obtained a new product that is going to lower the cost of materials used in the construction industry. It is a special kind of mortar called cellular concrete, which gives a useful purpose – and in an unprecedented way – to aluminum slag, a pollutant left over from the processing of this metal. In Brazil, this material amounts to over 11,000 tons a year. After it is processed, the aluminum slag acts as an expanding agent, which incorporates air into the mixture and can be used in the manufacturing of building blocks (bricks), pre-molded panels, subfloors and other kinds of surfaces. The two products used nowadays as expanding agents – aluminum powder and chemical substances called foaming agents – are very expensive and limit the use of cellular concrete. Production of the new material will start in six months, at a pilot plant in the town of Araçariguama, in the region of Sorocaba in the state of São Paulo. The main advantage of the materials made of this new kind of cellular concrete over the conventional ones is the reduction in the quantity of raw material (sand, cement and lime) of up to 30%, which knocks down the

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cost of building materials. This happens because the use of cellular concrete makes it possible to reduce the structural components of a building, such as the beams, columns and pillars, which also helps bring down the final price of the construction. “The expanding agent works like yeast, in the preparation of the mortar”, explains Araújo, who is responsible for the development of the new product. He first discovered the possibility of using aluminum slag as an expanding agent while he was preparing his thesis for a doctorate in materials engineering, which he concluded in 1992 at the Nuclear and Energy Research Institute (Ipen). “In the course of the doctorate, I managed to make an aluminum powder from thin sheets of aluminum. I went after the possible applications for the product and saw that one of them was autoclaved cellular concrete”, says Araújo. “But the thin sheet market is a very closed one, as the suppliers of coils of thin sheets buy the residue as well (for recycling) from those who used them, I decided to look for another raw material, cheaper and available in greater quantities, but having a good potential for producing gases in the mixture, an essential condition for an expanding agent. After many studies and tests, I arrived at aluminum slag”.

In the course of his post-doctoral studies, now on the recycling of aluminum, at the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (USP), the researcher got in touch with Siporex, a company located in Ribeirão Pires, in the São Paulo metropolitan region. It is one of the two Brazilian industrial concerns that specialize in making autoclaved cellular concrete. Araújo’s intention was to test aluminum powder recycled from thin sheets, and, at a second moment, slag used as an expanding agent. “That was how, in the light of the good results, we decided to put a project forward to FAPESP”, the researcher explains. Starting in 2001, the project was funded under the Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE), and it should go on to 2004. This is the deadline for the first factory specialized in Brazil in the production of expanding agents based on aluminum slag to start commercial production. The pilot plant will be working at Recicla, a company from Araçariguama in the São Paulo state A good deal of the R$ 400,000 of the financed funds is being used in building the plant, which in its initial stage will have the capacity to produce 90 tons a month of the slagbased expanding agent. Siporex went into partnership with Recicla, which, in compensation, is going in with the land for the pilot plant, the slag and the labor. It is a company that recycles the slag made by several producers of aluminum, such as Alcoa and Companhia Brasileira de Alumínio (CBA), the two largest in Brazil, and Metalur – of which it is a subsidiary. The estimate is that around 11,300 tons a year of primary slag are generated. This amount is equivalent to 1% of the production of aluminum, was came to 1.13 million tons in 2001, according to figures from the Brazilian Aluminum Association (Abal). When the expanding agent is added to the mortar, it has the function of making it porous, reducing the density of the products manufactured. This expanding effect happens because, as it reacts to the alkaline medium of common mortar (cement, lime and sand), hydrogen (H2) and methane (CH4) gases are released, forming bubbles that are incorporated into the material. In spite of being 30% less dense than conventional mortar, cellular concrete can


meet all the requirements for resistance to compression, according to the application for which it is intended. Building blocks made of cellular concrete with slag have the same required resistance to compression as the common blocks. As a result of its high price, the use of cellular concrete in Brazil is still minimal. While the square meter of this material costs R$ 14.00, ordinary bricks is sold at R$ 6.00, and hollow concrete blocks R$ 8.00. The high price is due to the costs of the currently used expanding agents. Aluminum powder and the foaming agent cost, respectively, US$ 5 and US$ 4.50 the kilo – and for this reason are little used in Brazil. “The slagbased expanding agent will replace these two products and be ten times cheaper than they are”, Araújo guarantees. The estimated price for one kilo of the slagbased expanding agent is R$ 1.50. Environmental benefits - Besides its low cost, the expanding agent made of aluminum slag can show other benefits, when compared with its rivals, aluminum powder and the foaming agent. The first of these is environmental.“Our intention is to put to use in the production of light concrete a highly pollutant waste”, Edval Araújo explains. Aluminum slag is usually disposed of in an inappropriate way, mainly by secondary recyclers (recycling the primary slag of aluminum scrap), as, for example, those who remove the aluminum from foundry slag. They throw the slag into lakes, rivers and onto fields, causing serious damage to the environment.

THE PROJECT Development of an Aluminum Slag Based Expanding Agent for the Production of Autoclaved or Molded in loco Cellular Concrete MODALITIES

Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE) Support for Intellectual Property Program (PAPI) COORDINATOR

EDVAL GONÇALVES DE ARAÚJO – Siporex INVESTMENTS

R$ 396,490.80 (PIPE) and R$ 6,000.00 (PAPI)

Both the aluminum slag classified as primary, coming from the production of aluminum, or the secondary variety, can be used in making the expanding agent, although the former is more advantageous, for having lower levels of salts, which are not desirable in the process. Another important attraction of the expanding agent made using aluminum slag is that there is no need for specific equipment, such as an autoclave or a foam generator, to produce the special mortar. According to Araújo, the pilot plant will cover some 40 square meters, and will be made up of a grinding center, a centrifugal fan, a cyclone type classifier (a sort of sieve) and a storage silo. “If the expanding agent proves to be reasonable for use in, for example, rich mortar – used to fill the gap between brick walls and beams or cement slabs –, the demand from the market will be much greater than the productive capacity of the pilot plant (90 tons a month)”, Araújo explains. “If all works out well, we already have plans to expand production to 500 tons a month”, the engineer says. In this case, additional investments in the order of US$ 2 million will be needed. Patent under way - There is only one patent in the world relating to the transformation of aluminum slag into an expanding agent for autoclaved cellular cement, but there is no commercial production. The patent was granted in 1976 to a Russian researcher, resident in the United States. “Until today, nobody has developed the product to be applied in cellular cement or to be used as an additive to mortar”. Because of its unprecedented nature, the new product is at the stage of being patented. “In January 2002, we started the process, by means of FAPESP’s Patents and Technology Licensing Nucleus (Nuplitec). The patent is for the process of manufacture, which is different from the one done by the Russian researcher, and for the various products created with the expanding agent”, says he. The patent requesters are FAPESP, the researcher and Siporex. A good partnership, which not only creates new products for the building industry, but also brings recognition for Araújo’s work and introduces the company to the field of technological innovation. •


TECHNOLOGY

FUEL

EDUARDO CESAR

Not even the bagasse is left over

New process could increase alcohol production by 30% and contribute to bringing back the Pro-Alcohol program Y URI VASCONCELOS

A

small revolution might occur in the sugarcane and alcohol mills of the country. If they incorporate a new technique developed at the Technology Center (CTC) of the Sugarcane, Sugar and Alcohol Cooperative of the State of São Paulo (Copersucar), in the town of Piracicaba, they will be able to increase the production of alcohol by around 30% without the necessity of planting a single stalk of sugarcane more. What seems to be magic is in truth the result of the total use of the biomass of the sugarcane, more precisely the bagasse. It is estimated that 300 million tons of sugarcane per year in the country are milled, resulting in 81 million tons of bagasse. Of this total, close to 70 million tons are burned in furnaces for the production of electrical energy to feed the mills themselves. With the use of 50% of the sugarcane straw, currently burned or left in the field, 35 million tons of bagasse could be reused for the production of alcohol. Added on to the 11 million that are al56

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ready in excess, it will be possible to produce 5.4 billion liters of alcohol per year, which accounts for about 30% of the current production. The production of electrical energy would not be damaged assuming that the major part of the furnaces in existence are substituted by others, more modern and efficient, which make better use of burning the bagasse and the straw. The new technology is a result of two decades of studies, in a piece of research that brought together researchers from Copersucar and the Dedini Group, one of the major equipment manufacturers for the sugar-alcohol industry. They managed to prove that it is possible to make carburant ethyl alcohol (ethanol) from the bagasse of sugarcane, through a process baptized as Dedini Rapid Hydrolysis (DHR in the Portuguese acronym). This process has already proved to efficient in laboratory tests and in a prototype on a pilot scale at the CTC and is ready to be tested on the industrial scale. If everything goes well, the new technology will be availa-

ble for the Brazilian mills beginning in the second half of 2003. “We’re confident that this new technology, up until this point unprecedented in industrial terms, will be very positive for the country”, says the chemical engineer Carlos Eduardo Vaz Rossell, the coordinator of Copersucar’s project.“All of the developed countries are after this technology, in order to transform vegetal biomass into fuel.” For him, the DHR process could supply alcohol at a competitive price; making use of already existing raw materials and freeing up more sugar stalk for the production of sugar. “The technology will make possible the utilization of bagasse to the maximum synergy with current conditions: the same production location, the same product and the same businessmen investing”, says Vaz Rossell. The innovation came about at a moment when the Federal government, mills and car manufacturers are again trying, after many attempts throughout the last decade, to agree among themselves how to put together the re-birth


EDUARDO CESAR

Greater production and supply for alcohol could bring back consumer confidence

of the National Alcohol Program (ProAlcohol). Created in 1975, to substitute, at low prices, gasoline which was strongly hit by the oil crisis during 1973, the Pro-Alcohol program reached its peak of success between 1984 e 1986, when the percentage of cars coming from the vehicle manufacturers with an alcohol motor reached 96%. The program began to fail at the end of the 80s when the international price of a barrel of crude oil began to fall and the advantageous relationship of the price between alcohol and gasoline, of up to 40%, went down by half. At the same time, the mills reduced their production of alcohol and increased sugar production, whose international price had become more attractive. The result everyone knows: Long lines to fill up the tank, the loss of confidence by the fuel’s consumer and the consequent deceleration of the Pro-Alcohol program. Today only 1% of new cars come off the factory production line to use this fuel. Another factor that harmed the Pro-Alcohol program was the excessive subsidies given to the mills. The government purchased alcohol at a price much higher than that sold at the gas stations, thus keeping a differentiated price in relation to gasoline. At the beginning of the 90s, the government incentives for the sugar/alcohol sector had consumed close to US$ 11 billion, according to numbers put out in reports by the magazines Carta Capital and Isto É Dinheiro, in editions of the month of May of this year. “The maintaining of the price policy, anchored in subsidies, lasted a long time and was one of the limiting factors of the program”, asserts the economist Luiz Gonzaga de Mello Belluzzo, a professor at the Economy Institute of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), former secretary for economic issues at the Finance Ministry and a former State Secretary for Science and Technology in the 80s. “Pro-Alcohol was good, but the subsidies given at the beginning should have been reduced with time to allow the program to become competitive. They were very onerous for the government”, explains Belluzzo, who has a favorable view of the revitalization of the program. “The Pro-Alcohol program brings security to the country in the eventuality of the occurrence of problems in the overseas oil market.” PESQUISA FAPESP

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he Federal government has already given the green light for a new era of alcohol as a fuel, assuming that the fiscal incentives, common during the start of the program, are forgotten about. The Minister of Development, Industry and Foreign Commerce, Sérgio Amaral, in a note to the press after a meeting with mill owners in May, stated that the Pro-Alcohol program will depend on the market and on the guarantee, from the mills to the consumers, that there will be no shortage of alcohol. “What is needed is that the government, mills and the car manufacturers get together to establish goals and conditions that give sustainability to the project, mainly on the supply side. Those who do not comply with their part should be punished”, suggests the economist Luciano Coutinho, a professor at the Economics Ins-

titute of Unicamp and the first general secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology when the program was created in 1985. “Things can’t be as they were in the past, an irresponsible policy”, which was accompanied by a crazy expansion of the fleet without any planning of demand and supply”, completes Coutinho. For him, if the errors in the past are corrected, there will be no problem in revitalizing the program. The economist suggests, in order to stimulate the use of the fuel, that part of the fleet be already equipped with flexible alcohol-gasoline motors (see box below) and that service vehicles and vans for public transportation make use of alcohol or natural gas. For the mill owners, a higher supply in the number of alcohol cars is an essential factor in revitalizing the program. “Excess of production of ethanol, we currently have. We need to return to

the production of alcohol cars in order to make use of the fuel for the internal market”, explains Eduardo Carvalho, president of the Union of the Sugarcane Industry of São Paulo. “The moment is ideal to revitalize the program.” The Federal government also has ambitious plans for exporting the product to the rest of the world. According to studies carried out by Copersucar, the demand for alcohol on the world market is high and tends to grow even more, spurred by the problems related to the oil supply and pollution in large metropolises – as it is known, alcohol is a fuel with enormous environmental advantages when compared with gasoline. In Europe, it is estimated that the consumption could get as high as 4.5 billion liters by the year 2005. In the United States, the demand will reach 11.9 billion liters in the next two years – today, the American production of etha-

Gasoline or alcohol? Both Vehicles with flexible motors or flex-fuel could be an important ally for the reactivation of the Pro-Alcohol program. With it, it is possible to fill up the car with alcohol and gasoline simultaneously, mixing in any proportion or even using the pure fuel. Contrary to the outdated systems that operate with sensors installed in the motor’s fuel line, before combustion, it uses a post-combustion sensor, which evaluates the level of oxygen resulting from the burning and re-aligns the module of the electronic injection with information about the fuel available in the tank. The biggest advantage for the consumer is that it could use the lower price of alcohol with the guarantee that one could also fill up the tank with gasoline, in the case of the shortage of the former. With an eye on this promising niche in the market, Ford has come out in front, in May last, with a prototype of a Fiesta car with a flexible motor gasoline-alcohol, developed by Visteon, a Ford company with its headquarters in the United States. Four prototypes are currently being tested

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on the roads. However, the management of the factory have already warned: they will only produce the car on an industrial scale if the new ProAlcohol program takes off. GM is also developing a flexible model of the Vectra. In spite of occupying space in the newspaper headlines now, the technology of flexible motors is not something new. In 1992, engineers at Bosch’s car parts company, with its headquarters in Campinas, began studies into the manufacture of a flexible motor, and two years later showed the prototype of a GM Omega car. The Magnetti Marelli, a company within the Fiat group that makes fuel injection systems, has also mastered the technology. “Bosch has already invested close to R$ 2 million in the development of this new motor”, says Besaliel Botelho, the company’s injection systems director. In the forecasts done by the company, the flexible motor will not come into the market from one moment to the next, but only one or two years after the approval of the technology by the government. It will be necessary, ex-

plain the engineers of the German company, to have a series of modifications in the industrial process, such as the protection of components of the motor against corrosion caused by the alcohol. According to Bosch, as well as the flexibility at the moment of re-fueling, this new line of motors has another benefit: the reduced emissions of pollutants. “Alcohol is an extremely beneficial fuel from the point of view of the environment”, says the ex-director of Cetesb, Laura Tetti, currently the coordinator at the Chamber of Climatic Changes of the Brazilian Entrepreneurial Center for Sustainable Development.“We’re dealing with renewable energy and a lot less pollution than with gasoline. The pollution generated by alcohol, in the emissions that come out of the exhaust pipe of cars, is smaller and less reactive”, she assures. The alcohol cars emit 50% less carbon monoxide (CO). In this manner, alcohol does not contribute to a worsening of the greenhouse effect, the gradual warming of the Earth brought on by the burning of fossil fuels.


EDUARDO CESAR

nol, extracted from corn, is around 5 billion liters. There, the growing consumption is due to the use of alcohol as a gasoline additive and for its use in cars with alcohol-gasoline flexible motors. The strategy of the government to export alcohol is also backed by the two economists, though they believe that it will not be easy. “I don’t believe that today the United States will buy our alcohol”, says Coutinho. “It’s practically impossible to sell to the Americans, since the country has strong tariff barriers to protect their own alcohol, which is produced from cereals”, complements Belluzzo. “The alternative would be to export the fuel to Europe, China and India”, says the economist. Support from FAPESP - The growth

Technology Center: prototype proves the efficiency of the new technique for the manufacture of alcohol

of the world market is seen with enthusiasm by the government and the industry managers. Besides being the largest sugar producer in the world, with 33% of the market, Brazil masters like nobody else the technology for the production of sugarcane alcohol. Of the 15.4 billion liters of alcohol produced in the country per year, 9.7 billion are hydrated alcohol and 5.7 billion are anhydrous alcohol, which gets mixed with gasoline, today to a level of 24%. São Paulo state, with 57% of the manufactured volume, is the largest production center and Copersucar, with its 35 affiliated mills corresponds to 22% of national production. With a favorable scenario for the return in Brazil to the use of alcohol as a fuel, the new technology created by Dedini and Copersucar has all the right ingredients for success. At the beginning of this year, they obtained the financial support of FAPESP to implant a developing processing unit (DPU), which will function at an annex of the São Luiz Mill, in the town of Pirassununga, which belongs to the Dedini company. It is there that the new technology named DHR is being tested on an industrial scale. The total value of the project, which makes up part of the program Partnership for Technological Innovation (PITE), has reached R$ 3.58 million, of which FAPESP has come up with R$ 1.76 million; the Dedini company with R$ 1.32 million; and Copersucar with some R$ 500,000. The development of the process demanded a huge effort on the part of the researchers. The Dedini company PESQUISA FAPESP

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began to study the hydrolysis (chemical reaction involving water) of the sugarcane bagasse in the early 80s and developed the DHR process in 1993. But only in 1997, when an agreement of technical cooperation with Copersucar was signed, who had already been following several studies related to new uses of the bagasse, did the company reach promising results. From that moment on, a pilot unit at Dedini, with the capacity for processing 20 kilograms of bagasse per hour, was transferred to the CTC, in Piracicaba. “The results verified through this experimental plant were very important”, tells the researcher Vaz Rossell, who is also the coordinator of the PITE project. “Now with the mounting of the semi-industrial unit, financed through resources from FAPESP, we can carry out a technical and economic evaluation of the process.” Organic solvents - The new UDP will increase the production to 5,000 liters of alcohol per day, produced in a continuous process, which is equivalent to around 50 tons of bagasse. This is still small when compared with a final industrial unit that will manufacture 100,000 liters per day, but it will be essential to evaluate the behavior of the materials and of the equipment during processing under real operational conditions “The UDP is fundamental for demonstrating the reliability of the process and its economic viability”, says Vaz Rossell. The demonstration unit is relatively simple. Formed by a reactor, which operates under pressure of between 25 to 27 kg/cm2 and a temperature of around 190° C, it is continuously fed with bagasse and with an organic hydro-solvent (ethanol, preferentially, though other solvents such as acetone, acetic acid or methanol can be employed) mixed with sulfuric acid. It is this mixture that is going to make the transformation of the cellulose present in the bagasse into glucose. In the next stage, the syrup containing the glucose is purified, to remove undesirable substances, mainly sulfuric acid, and it then receives the addition of nutrients, resulting in a must able to be fermented that will be mixed with the juice and molasses normally used for the manufacture of alcohol. The re60

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mainder of the process – fermentation and distillation – is carried out in the installations already in existence in the mill itself. “The big advantage of the DHR process is its speed”, says the chemical engineer Antônio Hilst, a consultant with Dedini, who invented the technique .“The transformation happens in only ten minutes, while the classical processes of hydrolysis, making use of dilute or concentrated acid, take at least five hours.” In order to understand how the magic of the transformation occurs, one needs to know beforehand that the bagasse of the sugarcane is a vegetal biomass basically made up of three substances: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, present in a proportion of approximately 50%, 30% and 20% respectively. The fracturing of the cellulose for the production of sugar is very difficult because of the presence of lignin, which functions like a protective coating, compacting and uniting the other vegetal polymers. Thanks to it, the fiber of the sugarcane is very resistant in its mechanical and chemical aspects. In the DHR process, the bagasse remains in the reactor the time necessary for the dissolving of the lignin and the hydrolysis of the cellulose to occur.“At the end of the process, we intend to reach an efficiency of around 60% of the sugar contained in the bagasse”, explains engineer Hilst. This is the same as saying that 60% of the cellulose present in the bagasse should become glucose. “With this level of sugar, we have the conditions to guarantee fermentation and distillation that are completely viable from the econo-

THE PROJECT DHR Process (Dedini Rapid Hydrolysis) – Projection, Implementation, and Operation of a Unit for the Development of the Process MODALITY

Technological Innovation Partnership (PITE) COORDINATOR

CARLOS EDUARDO VAZ ROSSELL – Copersucar INVESTMENT

R$ 1,822,100.00 (Codistil-Dedini) and R$ 1,751,487.00

mic point of view”, explains the Dedini researcher. The glucose is only one of the products resulting from the benefit. Besides it, other by-products are extracted from the bagasse such as methanol, acetic acid, lignin and furfural, whose commercial use could increase even more the income from the process. “For example, lignin could be used as a pre-polymer in resins and in the manufacture of wood agglomerates (with adhesives) or used as a fuel, thanks to its high calorific value”, suggests Vaz Rossell. Furfural, which is available on a large scale (15 kilograms per ton of bagasse) could be used in the manufacture of nylon. Everything will depend on market interest. Intellectual property - The researchers

evaluate that, in order to make this new technology viable, the mills will have to invest in new industrial DHR modules at approximately R$ 0.90 per liter per year of installed capacity. A unit with production estimated at 100,000 liters per year will cost around R$ 9 million. By the calculations of Copersucar and Dedini, the investment of the utilization of all of the bagasse that will be available when the technology is introduced onto the market will be around R$ 4.9 billion. The estimate is that least 5,000 direct jobs with the new technology will be created. The Dedini company has already registered various requests for patents referring to the DHR process in Brazil, two of them already having been granted and others currently under analysis. Abroad, patents were requested in some European countries and in Japan, the fact being that the main patent has already been conceded to in the United States. “The industrial property belongs to the three partners and the division of any profits will be shared in the proportion of the participation of each one in the process”, explains Vaz Rossell. “The Dedini company will receive close to 60% of the gross income from the sale of licenses for the process, whilst Copersucar will remain with 30% and FAPESP with 10%”, he concludes. Consequently, yet another successful technology developed partnership has been completed. Now it is hoped that the DHR can be a new and important ingredient for the return of the Pro-Alcohol program. •


Read in English

The site of Pesquisa FAPESP has English and Spanish versions with the same content published in the Portuguese version. Just visit www.revistapesquisa.fapesp.br and click the button English or Spanish. The reports are samples of the diversity and dynamism of the Brazilian science. The Brazilian researchers produced in 2001 the equivalent of 40% of the papers published by Latin Americans in the same period. Last year 10,555 papers were published which accounts for 1.44% of the world production. It is one the best rates in the developing countries.

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HUMANITIES RELIGION

The communion of Christians and Jews

R OBINSON B ORGES C OSTA

Research shows that, even after the separation of the Synagogue from the Church, the two religions maintained bilateral relations

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n spite of being Christian, the proverb “tell me with whom you walk, and I’ll tell you who you are” cannot be applied to the first years of Christianity. Research developed by the Methodist University of São Paulo (Umesp) shows that, contrary to what many historians indicate, the steps of the Jews and Christians continued to follow common paths even after the separation of the Church from the Synagogue. The project, financed by FAPESP, reveals that the two religions promoted an interchange of symbols, narratives and religious traditions, at least until the second century. Or that is to say: they continued to walk together, but coming from distinct convictions. “Our question is to know if the continuous elements between Judaism and early Christianity were a determinant factor only during the first outbursts and Christian movements or if there was an interchange even after Christianity conquered its autonomy and its own identity, motivated by standards of experience and a common religious language”, says Paulo Augusto de Souza Nogueira, the coordinator of the thematic project Convergent Religious Structures in Judaism and Christianity of the First Century. Made up by seven researchers who worked around three different axes, the study is going to be published in a book to be edited next year. The starting point was the understanding that the birth of Christianity was not the fruit of a radical breakaway from Judaism, a version spread throughout the ages. Based on literary documents, especially the apocalyptic traditions, the researchers identified intense bilateral relationships between Christianity and Judaism. In the opinion of Nogueira, the religion of Jesus, his followers and the following generations of Christians has to be understood starting from the practices and beliefs of religious Judaism. “A good part of the analyses of history presupposes that the use of the Jewish traditions would have occurred during the stages of the formation of early Christian religious tradition in a single manner. Or that is, the possibility that the Christians and the Jews were mutually influencing each other for a longer period of time is discarded”, he attested. The research moved in the opposite direction to this hegemonic vision that there were no more mutual influences after their separation. “We asked ourselves if the institutional differentiation would have implied a break in the exchanges of religious traditions”, he adds.“Coul-

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UNIVERSIDADE DE DARTMOUTH, HANOVER

The Epic of American Civilization, an illustration by José Clemente Orozco: for the researcher Paulo Nogueira, one needs to understand the texts of the past in order to understand the present PESQUISA FAPESP

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MUNCH MUSEUM, OSLO

dn’t these have co-existed even after the separation of the Christians from the Synagogue?” To answer the question, the researchers carried out a comparative study of the apocalyptic texts in the Dead Sea Scrolls, of Jewish pseudepigraphy literature (produced until 70 A.D.), and in the literature of early Christianity (both in the New Testament and in the apocryphal). The period studied goes from the second century BC until the second century AD. The choice of these texts happened because there were indications that the early Christians were apocalyptic Jews.“We went to work with a differentiated apocalyptic understanding, more so than the idea that the end of the world would arrive accompanied by cosmic cataclysms and of the redemption of the just”, he observes. The researchers consider that the essential element of the apocalypse is the visionary religious experience, probably of ecstatic origin, which has as its principal content visions about the heavens, structures of power, the angels and the mystic cult therein developed. Access to these revelations is possible through celestial voyages. “Instead of saying that Jesus was apocalyptic only because he had believed in the end of the world, we present the religious tendency of Jesus and his followers as a reflex of a complex religious visionary tendency, in which 64

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Jesus himself starts to be understood as someone who reveals the secrets and the mysteries of God.”

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or Paulo Nogueira, this perception allows one to reconstruct the cultural and religious portrait that makes it possible to understand the religious parameters of the early Christians and their relations with Judaism, as well as the syncretism with the religions of the Mediterranean. It was through visionary experiences that the Jews and the Christians had access to cosmic structures, to angelic powers and to the labyrinth like world in which God was imagined. “The apocalypse is here interpretes as a form of Jewish mysticism, much more that its traditional understanding as an expectation of the end of the world and of a critique of history and power”, emphasized the professor. “The highlight given to the ecstatic-visionary aspect permits an understanding of the apocalypse in relation to popular and illiterate traditions of Judaism, representing the apocalyptic texts only as the final product of a much wider current.” The interpretation of the apocalypse as the literature of visionary revelation can be found, for example, in the elaborate descriptions of the hierarchies of

the celestial powers, both in Jewish texts such as the Book of the Awakening, the Apocalypse of the Enoch (Ethiopic Enoch), in the Canticles of the Sabbatical Sacrifice of Qumran, as well as in the Letter to the Ephesians, in the disputes with angels and their cult in Hebrew, and in the search to ascend to the celestial dwelling places and in the preoccupation with the contemplation of the glory of God in John’s Gospel, without taking into account its reception in John’s Apocalypse and in the Ascension of Isaac. Nogueira emphasizes that it is less important to know if these experiences occurred in fact with Jesus or with Paul of Tarsus than to understand how these groups would have lived through this model of visionary religion in their ecstatic cults. “It is very possible that some of the narratives attributed to Jesus might have been posterior experiences that his followers attributed to him or even that had been narrated in the early Christian communities in a paradigmatic form, to be imitated on other occasions”, says the research coordinator. “This does not diminish the importance of the theme; on the contrary, it demonstrates a certain linkage between the religious presuppositions of Jesus with his posterior followers, as they proceed from a common environment: the Jewish apocalypse”.


GALERIA TRETIAKOV, MOSCOU

Golgota, by Edward Munch (left), and Christ in the Desert, by Ivan Kramskoy: study allows for the reconstruction of the cultural and religious depiction

The researcher Luigi Schiavo, who developed his doctorate thesis in the thematic project, has dedicated himself to the study of the Temptation of Jesus written by Luke, considered to be one of the most important texts of the Q document, also called the Source of Sayings, since it presents a narrative in which Jesus fights against Satan for cosmic domination. “The themes of judgment, of dualistic opposition, of messianic hope, of the Kingdom of God and of the presentation of his ethics, lead us to think of a document of strong eschatological character, with apocalyptical elements of vision and revelation”, says the researcher. “In this context, the testimony of the temptations of Jesus is here interpreted as a relating of a celestial journey, a literary form well known in apocalyptic and pseudepigraphical literature starting from the second century B.C., whose objective was to describe the ecstatic experience of the visionary.” This interpretation is based on various aspects, such as the technical term of vision “taken in spirit”, the transportation outside of the body and the journey into the sky, the angel that accompanies the visionary, the deserted place which, with fasting, represents the condition so that such an experience can occur, etc. The research adopts as a model for the understanding of Jesus in his collision with

Satan in this account, the myth of combat between the archangel Michael and Satan both as it is pictured, for example, in Rules of War of Qumran and reflected in the New Testament in Apocalypse 12. Schiavo’s research is being inserted into a part of the project that analyzes messianic figures of Jewish apocalypse that could have influenced the first dealings with Christ’s godliness, or that is to say, the first affirmations about the divinity of Jesus and his celestial origin. Another angle to the research intends to relate these early Christian apocalyptic texts with the celestial cult as it was idealized within mystical Jewish circles of that period. The hypothesis, in this case, is that this mystic

THE PROJECT Convergent Religious Structures in Judaism and Christianity during the First Century MODALITY

Thematic project COORDINATOR

PAULO AUGUSTO DE SOUZA NOGUEIRA – Methodist University of São Paulo INVESTMENT

R$ 83,871.00

world inserted itself into the cult of the cases of the early Christians, permitting the formation of religious identity and social organization surrounding the religious experience. Besides this discussion on the relationship of Christianity to Judaism, the project looked at a further direction of research that also analyzed the reception of the apocalyptic themes in the popular religion of the Mediterranean, more specifically towards the magic papyri, the fetishes and ancient talismans. In the end, the Jews and the Christians were inserted into a Greek-Roman religious world. For the coordinator, the texts selected for the research also established connections with modern times, since one refers to a new millennium, to the desire for libertarian change, for the realization of utopias and dreams.“Biblical studies are of relevance in Brazil, since we’re dealing with a country with an outpouring of its popular culture and of a large number of religious groups that feed off biblical symbols”, he explains. “In a pluralistic, cultural society, religiously involved such as ours, waterproof analyses that don’t also take into consideration the complexity of the founding texts, run the risk of not understanding the past, and much less the present”, he concludes. • PESQUISA FAPESP

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HUMANITIES

EDUCATION

The time to learn The Indian program The series Anthropology, History and Education, in four volumes, is the result of a thematic project that discusses indigenous education C ARLOS H AAG

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n the beginning it was the spoken word, but it wasn’t easy to understand it. “I remained with my ear close to the savage’s mouth but without being able to distinguish syllables or perceive vowels or consonants”, wrote father Vieira on his difficulty in trying to understand the Indians. The original sin of indigenous education had been born: teaching them how to speak Portuguese, moving them away from their own culture and negating any dialogue between the differences. At the epicenter there was the school. “The educational institution was fundamental in the redesigning of the Brazilian Native people, right from the catechism to positivism, since everything was always linked to the State”, explains Lux Vidal. The anthropologist is one of the more than twenty researchers of Mari – USP’s Indigenous Educational Group –, set up in 1995 to contemplate forms of education that

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would promote an inter ethnic dialogue between Indians and non-Indians. However, for them the speaking word was not enough. “There was always a lapse between the anthropological practice and theory, in order to think out this question, to advance in the area and to give some return to the Indians on the results of our studies”, Lux says. The result of this practical desire is contained in the recently published four volumes of the Antropologia e Educação – (Anthropology and Education) series. Antropologia, História e Educação – (Anthropology, History and Education edited by Aracy Lopes da Silva and Mariana Kawall Leal Ferreira), Práticas Pedagógicas na Escola Indígenas, (Pedagogic Practices in Indigenous Schools – (the same editors), Crianças Indígenas: Ensaios Antropológicos (Indigenous Children: Anthropological Essays – edited by Aracy Lopes, Ana Vera Lopes Macedo and Ângela Nunes) and Idéias Mate-


COLEÇÃO MUSEU NACIONAL/UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL DO RIO DE JANEIRO

The Indians according to a sketch by Cândido Portinari: “The village is no longer isolated in a globalized world, and the Indians are looking for information”, says Lux Vidal

máticas de Povos Culturalmente Distintos, (Mathematical Ideas of Culturally Distinct Peoples – edited by Mariana Ferreira) have just recently been published by Editora Global, with the support of FAPESP. Bringing together various articles from members of the Mari group, the books are the product of an ambitious thematic project launched in 1995 and financed through FAPESP, Anthropology, History and Education: The Indigenous Question and Schooling. In the middle of the process there was a terrible loss: the researcher Aracy Lopes died in the year 2000.“The completion of the thematic project and these books are due largely to the dedication of Aracy, who knew how to bring everything involving the project together”, praises Lux Vidal. “The theme of indigenous education is not something new, but thanks to these recent efforts it has a new spirit and direction” the anthropologist believes.

The current directional tendency arrived at the right time for contemplating a new challenge, globalization. If before it was necessary to integrate the Indians into their and our culture, today’s education needs to bring them onto the world. “The village is no longer isolated in the globalized world. The Indians are being instructed in this idea and want to participate in this coming together without putting aside what they themselves are”, Lux analyzes. Once again, the epicenter of all is the school, the privileged place for this discussion, this time within a positive context. Domination - “One of the most constant demands by the indigenous movement organized in Brazil over the last two decades, besides the question of land rights and of health care, is regarding education”, observes Mariana Kawall Ferreira. After five hundred years of seeing the school used as an PESQUISA FAPESP

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instrument of domination and of forced integration, indigenous peoples want to relate themselves with Brazilian society starting from a new base. However, they had to wait for the change in the 1988 Constitution that recognized them as Brazilians with full rights, among them being the right to their own language and culture. It was a long struggle. Mariana Ferreira recalls how the catechism was used in a movement towards the cultural annihilation of the Indians in Colonial Brazil. The obligatory teaching of Portuguese was a means of bringing the indigenous population into Christian civilization, “concentrating efforts to destroy native institutions, such as the medicine men, the family relations system, installing relations of submission and domination, and perpetuating social inequalities”. The native Indians were only trained for certain types of work such as cheap labor for their colonial masters. Mariana further observes that it was only in 1910 that the Brazilian State, under the influence of the positivists, began to show the minimal concern for the indigenous culture and language, through the implantation of the Indian Protection Service (SPI in the Portuguese acronym). Schools began to teach less religion, but still wanted the Indians prepared just to integrate them into the work force. In 1967, with the establishment of The National Indian Foundation – Funai in the Portuguese acronym, which substituted the SPI, bilingual teaching came onto the government’s agenda as part of its indigenous policy. In 1991, during the Fernando Collor de Melo’s administration, educational control was removed from the foundation and handed over to the Ministry of Education. A new legal decree guaranteed “that the educational actions directed towards indigenous populations have to be founded on the recognition of their social organizations, customs, language, beliefs and traditions, and in the processes themselves of the transmission of knowledge”. The road towards a differentiated schooling had been opened as well as for indigenous teachers. “This new form of education brought together a worry about maintaining the identity of the Indian and at the same time of giving to him those so desired 68

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new understandings of non-Indian society”, Lux Vidal evaluates. The native population shortly realized that, as well as gaining knowledge towards establishing equal rights relationships with the non-Indians, they could also use the “white man’s” institution of schooling with new meaning, closer to their reality and necessity. The old trick of destructive catechism hit back: teaching could help the Indians in the preservation of their traditions, customs and language. “Today the Indian teachers have the help of anthropologists in order to think of ways of creating their education, without leaving aside the necessary instrument of ‘succeeding in the white man’s world’”, analyzes Lux.

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hus, besides learning Portuguese and becoming bilingual, the new generation also learn to dominate mathematical operations (within, to be clear, the Indian spirit of an understanding of mathematics, linked to a delicate native cosmogony). “Curiously, for many of them it was a surprise to discover themselves true Indians as I could see on a visit to Oiapoque. Through the work of rescuing their language and history, many could rediscover within themselves the ‘lost’ identity of the indigenous native”, the anthropologist says. That is the reason for the statistical increase in the number of Indians in Brazil, which jumped in a few years from 350,000 to 850,000. “In reality, what happened was a recognition, through the new indigenous educational system, of many who were Indians”, explains Lux Vidal. In the end, it is now the indigenous population themselves who are producing their schooling material, their reading books, maps and atlas, reporting their version in their own words, of the country’s history. But not everything in the garden is rosy, the anthropologist warns. Especially in the concept of differentiated schooling. “Many Indians think that they are getting a narrower and inferior schooling. Furthermore, there is a lot of formal apparatus that holds them back from real necessary growth. It would be pointless preparing them for university entrance exams, since they would not pass. Nor would this be good for them”, she advises. “Few reach university, and

the vast majority prefers to remain in their villages and thus one needs to think about a schooling specific towards this end. There is lots of potential for social/environmental research among the Indians, the analysis and cataloguing of the fauna and flora, etc., that they, most certainly, could carry out and carry out well”, adds Lux. Fragility - Above all of this, the anthro-

pologist fears for a lack of future political desire to continue the enterprises related within the four volumes of the Anthropology and Education series. “There is, as the researchers narrate in the books, immense fragility in this system. And the indigenous population is increasing and wants top class schooling.” she says. In the opinion of the researcher, the election year has already brought with it a number of damaging situations in various phases of the project, which were left aside and relegated to a second plan. Lux Vidal also says that it is complicated to keep the teachers for a long time in an area and various indigenous teacher organizations ask for, and do not receive, government assistance so that this state of affairs can be changed. If this is not the case, the conquests could very easily be lost. The formation of non-Indian teachers is also required so as to think through the question and to help the process to continue. Above everything else, the researcher recalls, the situation of the indigenous child has to be particularly be studied, the theme of one of the books resulting from the thematic project. In the end, education has always brought with it friction between generations. “The elderly feel themselves humbled by the teaching acquired by the young”, she relates. “However, if we think deeply, the same thing is happening within our reality, as the Internet divides the generations”, she adds. Speaking about “our world”, the project Anthropology, History and Education pays equal attention to the other side of the coin: the stereotyped vision of the non-Indians towards indigenous populations. White society learns in school to look upon the natives as “under privileged, goodly people, who have no desire to leave the “stone age” and must be preserved as primitives”, Lux points out. “This is just as bad as preju-


AMSTERDÃO, RIJKSMUSEUM - AMSTERDAM SILVIA L. M. TINOCO

The idealized vision of the “good savage”: today the Indians suffer from stereotyping of being the victim, equally damaging to them

dice, especially in these times in which there is lots of Indian visibility in the media. To deal with such ideas is to deny recognition of the indigenous population in its dynamism,” evaAracy: project and luates the researbooks owe a lot cher. “One also to the researcher needs to realize that one cannot talk about indigenous education without taking into account that within these populations there are large differences and needs. All of this is present as discussion material in the thematic project” she reminds us. To top it all, Lux Vidal points out that indigenous education has brought unexpected fruits, such as the political inclusion of the indigenous populations. “The Indian vote is expressive in certain places and for this reason politicians go after them, which to a certain extent is good, since it forces the legis-

lature to also think about the indigenous question”, the professor says. However, the destiny of the indigenous populations should fundamentally rest in the hands of the natives themselves. Community - As it was observed in a statement at the 1st National Meeting of Project Coordinators in the Area of Indigenous Education in 1997: “The family and the community are the people responsible for the education of their children. It is in the family that they learn to look after their health, the geography of the forest, of the rivers and hills; they learn the mathematics and

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the geometry to make canoes. There is no selection or repetition of a school term. A piece of specific knowledge is at the service and the reach of all. All are teachers and students at the same time.” the document observes.“School is not the only place where learning occurs. School is not the constructed building or the students’ notebooks. Schooling is knowledge, wisdom. As well the community keeps hold of its wisdom in order for it to be communicated, transmitted and distributed”, the text wraps up. The issue is indeed complex. “It is necessary to train and to value professionals directed towards the community itself, aiming our autonomy and so that the schools serve as instruments for the permanence of the young people in our villages and not as open doorways”, echoed the final document of the 9th Meeting of Indigenous Teachers from the Amazon, Roraima and Acre, States. Today in Brazil there are still 218 indigenous peoples, speaking 180 different languages and native dialects. furthermore, Oswald de Andrade was correct: “We Brazilians never absorbed the catechism” It’s just as well. • PESQUISA FAPESP

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HUMANITIES

M UN I Z S O D R É I N T E R V I E W

The wayof life of the media An original theory suggests that human bonding is the object of communication, and creates the concept of a bios of the media as a key to understanding present-day society M ARILUCE M OURA

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ommunication has never enjoyed such a high status among the disciplines of the human sciences. Outlined as an issue to be thought about at the end of the 19th century, in the wake of the concerns of the liberal State and the social thinkers with the great human concentrations in the cities, communication was always held to be, if that much, a lesser field of knowledge, without any defined theoretic object. It resembled someone living on his petty tricks, borrowing methods from sociology, the theory of information, anthropology, to rely, later, on taking shelter in French semiology, American semiotics, and from the welcome of English cultural studies. Even when thinkers of the stature of Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer created, in the 40s, the concept of a cultural industry – crucial for the field of communication – and elevated it to the category of a fundamental question for understanding the 20th century, communication continued in its rather outcast condition, bowing to the great disciplines of social thought. In Brazil, the situation was never very different, even with the creation of the schools of communication at the end of the 60s. Very well: an important contribution to the efforts by specialists from several parts of the world to locate the field of communication is magnificently

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set out in a new book by a Brazilian: Antropológica do Espelho (The Mirror Anthropology), published by Vozes, launched at the end of last April. In this work, supported by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), Muniz Sodré, full professor and former coordinator of the postgraduate program on Communication and Culture, and recognized as one of the main Latin American thinkers in communication, presents a new proposal about the object of this field of knowledge: for him, this object is human, community bonding, which occurs today in the ambit of a general relationship – the one established by the media – which pretends to be a bond, a link that is always affected by the emotional side. Furthermore: Muniz suggests that we live today a new form of life – the media driven or virtual bios, rooted in business –, made of information, mirroring and new customs. Built like a strict, dense essay, Antropológica do Espelho, the 25th book by this far from orthodox thinker, dedicated for 30 years to reflections on communication, examines the ethos of this media driven world; it analyzes the transformation of the symbolic points of reference with which, educationally and politically, the contemporary conscience is formed; it speculates on the current processes of building reality, memory and identification of the subjects;

it sets out the transformation of the norms and values of sociability, that is to say, of Ethics – the great theoretical backing to the essay – and, finally, it discusses the field of communication in epistemological terms. It does all this making clear the linkage between the media and the market within the socalled globalization, and keeps in the background the idea that communication and the media constitute, theoretically, pretexts for new social discoveries in the social sphere. A few extracts from the interview he granted to Pesquisa FAPESP about his new work follow: ■ Why qualify some respected theoreticians, important for communication, as “thinkers of death”? — I was referring to a generation of French thinkers who grouped themselves around something they called “la théorie”, and who theorized the world half way between philosophy, sociology and anthropology. They included Levy Strauss, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, the Tel Quel group, Roland Barthes, later Jean Baudrillard. The theory has somewhat disappeared. It was very much in vogue in France from the mid-60s to the 80 and a bit, and in the 90s it was already starting to wane, losing much of the aura it used to have. Its theory was a line of thought of what was disappearing from the contemporary social forms. Some gave this the name of post-modernism, which I


LEO RAMOS

separated individuals, who relate legally and politely, by law and by etiquette. The bond may even be transfixed by law, but it is emotional, libidinal, and affective.

see as a label to stick to certain mutations. What characterized it was the decline of certain social forms that Gianni Vatimo preferred to call, in Italy, pensiero deboli, non-violent thought, outside metaphysics, no longer that transcendent god, but a partial and relative one, subject to many interpretations, and respecting fiction about the world, in the tracks of Nietzsche. But they were also thinkers of death because they represented the death of their own continuity. ■ In

what sense? — In the sense that, academically and methodologically, they could not be taken very literally. Traditional thinkers had behind them a cause and the possibility of a methodological continuity, take Marx, and even Sartre. The ones we are talking about had neither one thing nor the other, they were more related to the text than to life concretely stirring, and they were people with a brilliance that illuminated a lot and then went out. Anyone who later tried to write like Barthes came out badly. ■ What

is your relationship with them? — I studied with some of them in France, like Barthes, and I have a personal relationship with one of them, which is Baudrillard. But the question that is important here is that, like them, I do not in fact believe in universalism and in the scientific precision of the social sciences. Hence, the great epistemo-

■ Does a bond in the atmosphere of the media have these same properties? — It may have, the problem is to what extent this happens, in coexistence Sodré: the science with the force of a relatioof communication becomes nal bond which is entirely imperative for breaking societal – which I distinwith the metaphysics guish from social. The first of observable facts I understand as the force of the institutions of society, of the State, that keeps us together. Well, the media keep with their public a societal bond pretending to be a socilogical interest of communication is to al one, because they work with the emobring to the panorama of social thintions. The media create a relationship, king a relativization of disciplinary and to do so they have to set up another knowledge. I do not believe that comkind of sociability, another bonding rule. munication is strictly speaking a discipline. To repeat a play on words that has already been done, it is rather an indis■ In what manner? cipline with regard to strict, narrow, — Look at the trick of television, for disciplinary limits. example. That familiarity with which it goes into your home, that likeable look of the presenter, which is not that of the ■ Without these limits, can the object of a speaker in public, it is a bonding prefield of knowledge become clear? text. In the relationship, the identities — Yes, and, with this, first, you see that seem to be ready, finished and tied tothe object of communication is not the gether by threads, legal, socio-psycholomedia, it is human bonding. That is to gical, etc., while the bonds, even though say, how it is that we, socially, and why it is traversed by this, is emotional. Cosocially, are together. What tie makes it mmunication is the science that works possible for us, being in a community, on this – and I say that it is a science to hate ourselves and kill ourselves, but strictly speaking, not in the positive sento remain together. Beyond work, bese, but in the sense we used to have in yond the economy, there is some thing the 18th century, and which is in Kant, called a bond. in the sensualist philosophers, in a fine language, and capable of being recogni■ But what specific nature does this bond zed as such by the community. have, this object of communication? — It is the bond in the light of another general kind of bond that has been es■ But isn’t it an exaggeration to classify tablished: the bond of the media. This communication as a science? means: it is the bond in the light of re— No, science doesn’t have to be neceslationship, that is, the media are relatisarily exact and universal knowledge. onal, communication is bonding. And There is this sense of science as a well what is the difference between bonding structured language, and, seen like that, and relationship? It is that bonding goes communication gives us the pretext for through the body, affection, passes throtalking about an emergent kind of sociugh feelings, and hate, while the relationability, which is not anchored on a tership between people can be completely ritory, which are processes, staged relaimpersonal, that is, they are atomized, tionships where their reality is virtual,

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and which today are together with other historical forms of sociability. ■ Research into communication would thus make it possible to spot in an acute form this process of the new forms living together with the traditional forms of sociability. — Precisely. That has already been announced by several people in different manners. I tried to announce it more clearly, because I based myself on Aristotle, when he, in a simple way, in the Nicomachean Ethics, distinguishes, just as Plato had already done in Philebus, three genera of existence in the Polis, three modes of sociability: the mode of knowledge, which is bios theoretikos, the mode of pleasures, which is bios apolaustikos, and political sociability, which is bios politikos. Well, thinking about each of these spheres, where the individual lodges himself in the social, I realized that all that there is with regard to the media – perceiving that they are not just an apparatus for transmitting information and data, but have an influence of the bond and relate to the bond –, is that they are another bios, which appears from something that Aristotle excluded from his system, which is the bios of business – what I call then the bios of the media or virtual bios. Without any territory, just made of information. ■ And

this is the fulcrum of your theoretical proposition. — It is, because starting from this, from the bios of the media as another kind of social form, the whole methodology and perspective for communication changes, because I can no longer avail myself, strictly speaking, of sociology, anthropology and philosophy, which are disciplines and learning that arose from the connections with the historical forms of bios, around the State, religion and the economy. So here, then, I have a disjointing from the traditional objects, which makes me to think up a new object, placed on another plane, on which I can no longer talk of substances to which I am going to predicate qualities. This is what happens with the Aristotelian knowledge to speak of the social sphere, the predication of qualities, while here I am going to talk about a logic that some authors call process logic, and I am going to call properly communica72

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The idea of a fourth bios has now been inscribed in contemporary imagination. See the Truman Show film

tional logic, a logic of the connections, of the interfaces. And what is your methodological proposition for addressing this field? — Methodology is one thing, and methods, another. Edgar Morin made this distinction. Methodology is the methods already tested, which many academic institutions apply mechanically. I would say that communication has method and not much methodology. Method is the route in the direction of an objective, it is a way. This means that each and every scientific work admits creation, discovery, whatever it is. Communication has that invention that C. S. Peirce called abduction, the instant of discovery, of an insight into the social sciences. When you take the great explainers of Brazil, like Gilberto Freyre and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, you can see there is enormous personal research behind the texts, but in no instant do you find in them the fetishism of research. And yet, with their ideas, abductions, insights, they have been veritable seeds. On this same track, for me, communication is, academically and theoretically, a pretext for discoveries in the social sphere. ■

■ When

asking about method, I was also thinking, in defense of it, of the need for a certain practical experience to think out the question of communication. — Unlike other social disciplines, I think that communication is a kind of study that does not dispense with the researcher’s own experience. To write about journalism, some experience of journalism is fundamental, at least as someone who is submerged in a editorial office, in the environment of a television station, etc. And from this theoretical reflection to come from the inside, the media have to be accepted.

The attitude cannot be simply a refusal born of cultural and intellectual moralism, in the fashion of the Frankfurt School – which, let it be said, I think is a great school, but, at that moment, emerging technology frightened the great philosophers like Adorno and Horkeimer a lot. It has to be accepted, because it is a form of life that you share, like it or not. The whole time we are immersed in this object that is the bios of the media, and, as I wrote in the book, we go in and out of it all the time, because this bios is a parasite on the historical kinds of bios. I want to say with this that the bios of the media is going to extract the substance from the simulations it makes, their content and the appearance it wants to show the world, from the previous world. That is why it is very conservative as far as its forms are concerned. At bottom, television, for example, wants each viewer to recognize himself in it, to facilitate the relationship, it doesn’t want to tear himself into strips, nor to break up his image, it wants the viewer to see himself just as he sees himself in the mirror. ■ Given

your condition as a teacher, how do you manage to transmit clear clues on the method for thinking out communication? — First, I take care of a methodological stimulation for this analogue logic. Given a phenomenon, my proposition is: let us examine it on the economic, political and ideological level. I do this in the manner of an essay, reflectively, reading articles, paper, talking, which does not prevent the students from being able to do each one of these levels sociologically, and with field research. My personal method is the interconnection of the three instances, and so it is isomorphic, because I try to see how different forms have one isos, one point in common. Can we talk about the notion of the bios of the media as something that has the shallow surface of a mirror? Can it be summed up here? — The mirror reflects and at the same time encloses the image on its shallow surface. It lacks the depth of life, and this being enclosed in a shallow surface is the condition of man who lives in the bios of the media. It is like Alice in the land of the looking glasses. That is, if I am in the mirror and under blue ligh■


ting, I am the blue citizen in the mirror. And this blue, red or purple that the media illuminates is actually the bios of the media. The bios is a qualification, a particular illumination. A side of pure appearance that allows infinite contagion and refraction: one image leads to another, which leads to another, infinitely, and until I receive them, I am then so accustomed to them that I myself am an image. Anyway, the media reduce the discourse of the historical real to what is possible inside the surface of a mirror. And it is in this reduction of substance to its image that the world is transformed. That is why Heidegger says about technique: modernity is the world that has been transformed into an image. Merchandise is an image, not any image, but one like the most perfect and finished form of the merchandise, because what is seductive about it is not its value in use, but the value for social exchange it has acquired and which is a signal; that is to say, merchandise today is just as more seductive as it has received enhancement in the eyes of others, starting with the market. ■ The

image is the result. But what is the origin of this process? — The origin is the market, and consumption, then, is change in the universe of production. The traditional mode of production implied the ideology of the worker directly producing something, and the model for this work comes from the factory, even if we are dealing with an intellectual worker: I give so many hours and my work can be measured in hours or in production. With the depreciation of factory work and its replacement by specialists in machines or in administration or management of knowledge, we operate more and more with signs, with images of things, and, often, work in a large company is image, it is that guy who doesn’t know how to do anything, but he circulates, he manages, administers relationships. Relationship in itself has turned itself into a value. The image has gone on to manage, to invade and to colonize the social sphere. You may say: hasn’t it always been like this? Yes, it has, but psychically, inwardly, on an individual scale. The problem is that this has left the individual and goes on in the media. So the images become substance, without one being able to touch

I see communication as a philosophical public activity, with the obligation of explaining the media to the public at large

them, they ask only for the potency of the look. ■ In all the modernity of the west, the look has become an instrument of power. What has changed in contemporary terms? — The power of seeing has been transferred, is going democratic, it is no longer a question of seeing oneself magnified in the looking glasses of the great bourgeois houses, in the portraits, in the avenues with which cities are rationalized. These classic ocular strategies have been transferred to viewing machines, the look of dominant or dominated subjectivities has been transferred to technical objects, like those in medicine or in entertainment. So we have another landscape, where the interobjective is stronger than the intersubjective. The individual is a human element in a chain of technical objects in the system. The gatekeeper who controls the garage is an element in a technical chain. And that transforms relations in society profoundly. With regard to the media, the viewing machines broaden the public space. The hustings that used to be for a few thousand, go to millions. But the expansion of technology reduces, on the other hand, the promise of acting free socially. Representation is becoming autonomous. Power lies not where we think it does, it has been transferred to the technical sphere. The media bring death to classic politics and representative democracy, we have moved on to a plebiscitary democracy. ■ This leads to the following question: with the death of the classic forms of representation, with the weakening of civil society, what is happening on the social and political plane? — I think that what authors call the civil post-society is just a label, I think

that civil society continues, and what I see is the emergence of what the Hegelian idea of civil society left aside: the plebs, the rest, which did not link up institutionally to be an integral part of the world of work. It’s the mass. They are the people who have been excluded and increased out of all proportion with the financial globalization of the world. ■ But

does not this increase point to barbarity, violence and crime? — Without a doubt, and that is what we are seeing. I am not saying that the plebs is harmonious, when it doesn’t even have a civil language, just counterlanguage – violence is a counter-language. At any rate, let us not forget that no social group is founded without violence. Urban criminality is unbearable because the classic civil society is not prepared to deal with violence, except in terms of warfare. With criminality, as in the wars that are ethnic in appearance only, what is implied is a rearrangement of territory through instants of sovereignty, which are chaotic moments. The masses are going through theie moment of sovereignty in its most unbearable form, which is this violence that is not only for getting things, but for cruelty. ■ I find the somber nature of your diagnosis odd, in the light of the subtle sensation that your book gives that there are some ways out. — I agree with the point of view of Milton Santos, which was the same as Michel Serres’s, that the ongoing production of scarcity, of precariousness in the real conditions of the world, generates a kind of knowledge. This knowledge is what I call experience – the component and source of all action. And the State, either it learns with the pleb or it disappears. ■ There is a concern of yours with practical action, coming from a theoretician in communication, isn’t there? — I understand communication as a public philosophy, that is, one focused not only on the academic world, but with the obligation of an undertaking to focus as well on the public at large, to explain the media to them. Reflection on communication is accordingly an activity committed to the historical reality, and not an entirely timeless abstraction. •

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CARTOON S ANTIAGO

The patient with the problem in his ear wants to know if he can pay you with this.

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