Brazilian science is currently well regarded around the world. This is what became clear during the Nature Conference: Advances in Metabolic Communication, a four-day international event gathering experts in the study of metabolism in Rio de Janeiro. During the Conference, finished last Friday, the 18th, Brazilian researchers were repeatedly quoted by speakers from various countries.
It was not a coincidence that the event payed tribute to two great Brazilian names who helped build credibility in the area in which Brazil is widely recognized today, bioenergy. One of them is the Campinas State University (Unicamp) researcher, Anibal Vercesi, who attended the conference.
When defending his PhD thesis in 1974, Vercesi demonstrated that mitochondria (the structures in charge of converting food energy into cell energy) have an important role in calcium regulation inside the cells. He also explained how mitochondrial oxidative stress can be a factor in causing accumulation of cholesterol in blood vessels in atherosclerosis.
“His contribution to Science is huge, but in my opinion, his greatest quality is as a professor, said USP researcher Alicia Kowaltowski during her tribute to him and who was Verseci’s pupil. “He is amazing in transmitting his vast knowledge and he has been responsible for the education of over 300 scientists.”
The other name receiving honors was Leopoldo de Meis, who passed away in 2014. He was born in Egypt and was a doctor. He built a career as a Federal University of Rio de Janeiro UFRJ professor and researcher and dedicated his life to the study of energy transduction and the calcium pump as well as to science education and outreach. During the tribute, Antonio Galina, a UFRJ professor and also a pupil of de Meis’s, told the audience about the time when the Brazilian professor invited the celebrated scientist, Paul Boyer, to work in his laboratory in Rio de Janeiro, which he accepted. When Boyer was granted the Nobel Chemistry Prize, he mentioned de Meis twice during his laureate speech.
“Leopoldo is most likely the most prominent figure in biochemistry research we have ever had”, stressed Eduardo Chini, who is also from the same generation of scientists trained by de Meis. “In his lab, he did not care if the person was a post doc, PhD or a student. He believed in those who practiced science and that knowledge could come from anywhere”.
“The impact of Brazilian science developed in this area became clear, not only historically, but also with recent research ”, states Cristina Caldas, Serrapilheira Science Director. “One example is the fact that researcher Eric Verdin, of The Buck Institute for Research on Aging, mentioned during his speech the work of Juliana Camacho and Eduardo Chini, two young scientists. We hope the conference has opened doors for Brazilians to be increasingly included in international knowledge networks.”
International research on metabolism
Brazilian science production has been increasingly attracting attention, but the event also constituted an opportunity to get to know great work conducted in international laboratories. One of the highlights was Harvard Medical School Professor Ronald Kahn, a reference in diabetes and obesity research. In a study recently published in the Cell Metabolism, Kahn demonstrated that fructose is more harmful to the body than glucose. “This sugar is not efficiently burned by the liver, which in the long run may lead to hepatic fat accumulation, metabolic syndrome and cirrhosis”, explains Kahn.
It is Worth stressing that this does not mean that fruits are harmful to human health, as levels of fructose are low in fruits. The problem lies in high-fructose corn syrup, frequently used to sweeten processed food such as soft drinks, cereals and bakery products, as it is less expensive and sweeter than glucose. Khan’s research group dedicated approximately four years examining this aspect in particular, but the work is part of the scope of a basic research effort seeking to understand how a diet is metabolized by the body in general terms.
For the physician and UFRJ Professor Marcelo Bozza, science events such as the Nature Conference play a critical role in preventing isolation among scientists . “Today, more than ever, we must reestablish meeting environments to talk science, ideas and proximity. There is a major load spread against science and a way to minimize this is by meeting partners that may lay a hand both in this difficult context as well as in dealing with problems connected to research itself.”