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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Dr. Luciana Franco, Dr. Sérgio Cardoso, Dr. Mônica Cardoso, Dr. Paulo Ferreira, Dr. Adriana Hemerly, Dr. Liszt Vieira, and Ms. Marina Silva

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

Tropical ecosystems have suffered greatly in the last few hundred years as a result of human-mediated overexploitation. Extensive deforestation, in particular, has led to the destruction of vast areas of tropical forest that form the natural habitat of many species, including plants. Among the 18 countries that account for 70% of the plant and animal biodiversity known so far, Brazil is, most likely, the country with the largest biological diversity. The Atlantic Rainforest is a hot spot of plant biodiversity, with a large number of endemic species. Most natural populations of these species are comprised of a low number of individuals and it is believed that for every two endangered Brazilian trees, one is found exclusively in the Atlantic Rainforest ecosystem. Because of the proximity of urban centers this complex ecosystem, one of the most threatened in the world, has been the subject of environmental degradation by social and economic pressures. During the last 500 years, the geographical range of the Atlantic Rainforest has been reduced from 12% to 1% of the Brazilian territory. Until recently, the strategies for conservation of genetic resources have been focused in in situ and ex situ germplasm collections. Plant DNA sequencing information has been generated and consists in another approach to preserve the genetic memory of the species, but because it is still a time consuming and expensive technique, it is concentrated in few model species, representing only an insignificant percentage of global biodiversity. Most biodiversity-rich countries are poor in economical resources and therefore high throughput sequencing projects are unlikely to be made priorities at a national level. DNA bank collection is an efficient and novel approach to avoid the disappearance of genetic resources, strengthening the power of the traditional strategies by preserving the richness and diversity encoded by plant genomes. DNA banks are also of key importance for the scientific community because they help to reduce costs and labor derived from field trips as they facilitate exchange of genetic material among research institutions around the world. In spite of its crucial importance, few initiatives have been taken to establish collections of plant genetic material around the world. The Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden DNA Bank aims to maintain genetic information representing the high diversity of Brazilian flora. Our collection is focused in the conservation of DNA from plant species of the diverse ecosystems that shape the Atlantic Rainforest biome. At short and long term, this collection will be a source of genetic material for research on phylogeny, phylogeography and genetic structure. Most important, this bank will allow bioprospection of genes that are responsible for the biological diversity, which has been used by human kind since our first steps. For the present and future generations, this bioprospection will permit identification of genes involved in important characteristics such as drug biosynthesis, food quality and plant resistance to pathogens and stress conditions.

Brief Biography

Since 1994, this group of scientists from the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden and the Department of Medical Biochemistry at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro has been working together in a multidisciplinary effort, with the goal of achieving a comprehensive view of the genetic structure of selected endangered native species of the Atlantic Rainforest. Dr. Luciana Franco is in charge of the coordination and implementation of the DNA Bank. She is a biologist and obtained her PhD at the Department of Genetics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The thesis work was focused in the study of the regulation of gene expression during flower development. Her main scientific interests are the regulation of gene expression and molecular phylogeny. Dr. Mônica Cardoso is the head of the Conservation Program at the Botanical Garden. Dr. Cardoso is a biologist and her PhD research at the Department of Genetics was the investigation of the genetic structure and variability of remnant populations the flagship species Brazilwood (Caesalpinia echinata Lam.). Dr. Cardoso is now conducting similar analysis with native plants from the different ecosystems that form the Atlantic Rainforest. Dr Adriana Hemerly got her PhD degree in the Laboratory of Genetics, at the University of Gent, in Belgium. Her PhD work helped to set the foundations of the current research in plant cell division. The research in her group is aimed at the study of plant development. Dr. Paulo Ferreira received his PhD degree at the Laboratory of Genetics, in Gent, Belgium. His thesis research was focused in the regulation of genes from the cell cycle machinery during plant development. He is now the head of the genomics program at the State of Rio de Janeiro, and he is also interested in plant development. Dr. Sérgio R. Cardoso obtained his PhD at the Department of Medical Biochemistry, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He studied the genetic structure and variability of another endangered species from the Atlantic Rainforest, the palm of the heart (Euterpe edullis Mart.). Besides the work on genetic structure of native plant populations, his research now is on plant molecular phylogeny, especially of palm species. The group main objective is to get a broad picture of the genetic structure of endangered native species of Atlantic Rainforest biome. The research has now many other avenues, including studies of molecular phylogeny and systematics, Besides the scientific importance, it is clear that a deeper knowledge of where and how the genetic resources are located in the remnant fragments of the Atlantic Rainforest is of critical importance in setting up the directives and actions of conservational public polices. Two years ago the group realized that, because devastation of this biome is happening very fast despite of all conservationist efforts, a concentrated effort to gather, extract and preserve high quality DNA from plants and store this material in consolidated collections such as a DNA bank would be crucial if a precise knowledge of the genetic resources still available could be saved for present and future generations.

Dr. Liszt Vieira

Background in Law and Social Sciences. Master Degree in the University of Paris in Development, concentration in Agricultural Development. PhD in Sociology, concentration in Civil Society and Globalization issues. Active member of the environmental movement in Brazil since beginning of the eighties. State-level Congressman between 1982 and 1987. Coordinator of the Global Forum during the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio,in 1992. Professor at the Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro. Minister of Environment of the State Government of Rio de Janeiro in 2002. My several articles, published in scientific magazines and local newspapers, and my several books published in Brazil, can be found in my website www.lisztvieira.pro.br

Ms. Marina Silva

Marina Silva was elected to the Federal Senate for the first time in 1994, at 36 years of age, the youngest senator in the history of the Republic. In 2002 she was reelected with almost three times as many votes as in the previous election. She was appointed Minister for the Environment by President Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, and took office on January 1, 2003. Marina was born on February 8th, 1958, in the Breu Velho site (an area of land worked by a family within the territory of the rubber plantation), in the Bagaço rubber plantation, 70 kilometers from Rio Branco, the Acre state capital, to where she moved when she was 16. Her first job in the city was as a maid. At that time, she learned to read and write at the former Mobral Institute (Brazilian Literacy Movement), took crash courses and, at 26, received her degree in History from the Federal University of Acre. In this same year - 1985 - she joined the Worker's Party. One year before that, she helped found the CUT (Central Workers’ Union) in Acre, whose first coordinator was Chico Mendes while Marina was its vice-coordinator. She also participated in the Comunidades Eclesiásticas de Base (Grass-Roots Ecclesiastic Communities), in neighborhood movements, secondary school teachers’ union and in the rubber tappers' movement. In the 1988 municipal elections, she was the most voted city council member in Rio Branco and won the only left-wing seat in the City Council Chamber. In 1990 she ran for the State Legislature, once again garnering the most votes. A survey carried out by the Federal University of Acre shows that Marina has the best parliamentary performance in that legislature. In the Federal Senate, she worked in the Commission for Social Affairs and member of the Commission for Education. She was vice-chair of the Special Congressional Commission for Combating Poverty, created by a proposal she submitted. She was leader of the Workers' Party Bench and Opposition Bloc in 1999. She was also the author of the first bill dealing with access to genetic resources in Brazil, approved by the Senate in 1998. Among the awards she has received are the Goldman Environmental Award, as a representative of the South and Central Americas (1996); honored as one of the "25 Women Leaders in Action in Preservation of the Environment" by the United Nations Environment Programme (1997); "Young People with a Future for the World" Award - TIME magazine (1995); and “Woman of the Year” Award - National Women's Council of Brazil (1998)