08/11/2021

The map of the Forest

“Brazil has a huge diversity and the genetic heritage may be materialized in prosperity for native people and for the country” – Guilherme Oliveira

 

The Italian researcher and botanic, Stefano Mancuso, in his last book “A Nação das Plantas (The Nation of Plants)” (Ed. Pergaminho, 2020), plays with the creation of a kind of Constitution for Plant’s Rights, with eight articles. The playful tone is part of the author’s style. However, in a serious manner, he warns you about an absolute disinformation, a total incomprehension regarding “the rules that govern the existence of a community of living beings”.

“We were the last to arrive in this planet, we behave as children causing disasters, unaware of the value and meaning of the items we play with”, says Mancuso.

To the statement of the biologist we may add: with the aid of technology, humanity has been redeeming itself. Studies that enabled the DNA sequencing made it possible to facilitate the genomics, a science that has been significantly growing for twenty years, breaking boundaries, advancing towards the description of the map regarding each organism’s functions.

For this, it is necessary to have access to information and technology, considering that the knowledge on the genetic heritage is essential for nature protection. And that’s where the contribution of Vale Institute of Technology Sustainable Development (ITV DS) enters. According to the biologist Guilherme Oliveira, Manager of Scientific Knowledge for ITV DS, “we have called associations, academic conversation groups and NGOs to talk. We want to contribute to the process by creating this basic information, which is important for the decision-making regarding species conservation”.

The decision to which Guilherme refers to is one of the most necessary when it comes to biodiversity conservation. Not only for the protection of the nature, but also to find solutions for human issues through biotechnology and to develop cultivars that will generate income for families and native people. The genoma study is being used to monitor plants species of Carajás’s Canga and invertebrates found in Carajás caves.

In the video “Amazon DNA” released by ITV DS on July 17th, one of the scenes highlights the importance of this action in order to help to identify the species – flora and fauna – and to support the challenge of conservating them. That’s when the image invites the viewer to take a slow walk on Amazonian soil.

“When we walk through the forest, we see a genetic heritage which has not yet been identified by contemporary science. The DNA of the species is in the environment. Animals shed cells, some of them die, others defecate, and this DNA is present in the forest, soil, water and air. And, if we are able to sample this environment, we are able to sample the diversity of species included there.”, adds Guilherme Oliveira.

One of the associations invited by ITV DS to discuss about the Amazon DNA was the Brazilian Association of Zoos and Aquariums. For the president of the organization, Mara Marques, the cooperation agreement with ITV DS is essential for the ex-situ management of 25 endangered species.

“The species are under human care and need strategic support so that conservation actions may be used. The first step for this is to know people and perform a diagnosis, therefore, the genome study is a reinforcement tool for that”, said Mara.

 

Thus, a genomic and genetic database is being built not only for the southeast region of Pará, but also for the Amazonian Region as a whole. It is like this place is creating an environmental signature.

In 2022, the project is to keep mapping and revealing the genetic heritage of Amazon, in addition to expand the information bank, which will contribute for the bioeconomy and for the protection of this ecosystem.

Four questions for Guilherme Oliveira, biologist and Scientific Manager for ITV DS

1- What is genomics?

Guilherme Oliveira – It is the study of DNA’s content existing in each organism’s cell. The DNA contains the map of the functions of this organism. The study of genomics aims to describe this map and to comprehend the functions of the organism.

2- Why is genomics important to the preservation of biodiversity?

Guilherme Oliveira – Once it creates a very deep and complete insight of organisms, genomics has become a very powerful tool for the study of species. When you cannot even minimally preserve the genetic diversity of a species, it may be at risk of population collapse. But the genomics also helps to find solutions for human issues through biotechnology and to develop cultivars, which will generate income for families and native people. The genome study is being used to monitor plant species of Carajás’s Canga and invertebrates from Carajás’s caves.

3- How has ITV contributed?

Guilherme Oliveira – We are calling associations, academic conservation groups and NGOs to discuss. We want to contribute to the process, generating information. Our role in this entire process will be, first, to create a high-quality genetic reference for the species, once it subsidizes all subsequent works. And also to perform studies on genetic heritage of species.

4- Is the genomic study performed before deciding on the vegetal suppression?

Guilherme Oliveira – Yes. The description of biodiversity comes first, in order to help on the decision-making regarding which areas may or may not be used for human activities. We must ensure that species will not be lost. We describe the environment in order to facilitate the sustainable use of natural resources and, thus, we help to provide more robustness to the decision-making process.

Four questions for Mara Marques, president of the Brazilian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, ITVDS partner on the Amazon DNA project.

1- Why is the study of genomics important to try to control the extinction of species?

Mara Marques – I will answer with an example: Eleven years ago, an exotic goat, which was threatened with extinction, from a very cold country, received in its habitat goats from the same species, but that were from a hot region. The goats were taken in order to try to contain the extinction. They reproduced, however, the environmental factor played a role in their genes, and many died. All these modifications occurring in a species appear in the genome. The conservation genetics facilitates the diagnosis of endangered species, once it helps to identify some mechanisms related to the extinction of the species.

2- The Creation of Conservation Units is also an important tool for endangered species. How does genomics dialogue with Ucs?

Mara Marques – The study of genomics is important once it may point out the importance of a given area and it may recommend to use such place as a Conservation Unit. A previous study leads to this conclusion. Even in this matter, the study of genomics helps decision makers to invest in certain areas.

3- Is there any example of an amazonian species that is being monitored after the study of genomics?

Mara Marques – The bush dog, which receives this name due to its red meat, is very wild and extremely vulnerable. It has distinct populations in the Amazon. There is also the white-cheeked spider monkey. The dangers these species face are diverse, and these populations are failing to reproduce as fast as they are being extinct.

The genome study shows several things about such species: which population we are working with, who are the individuals, the ones that can be mixed… it is a tool that contributes to the things we have already been performing. And it guides us, with a sense of showing where we can reproduce these animals.

4 – How do the partnertship between ITV DS and Abaz work?Mara Marques – Since 2018, we have been performing the ex-situ management of 25 species of Brazilian native fauna threatened with extinction. That year, we entered into an agreement with ICMBio.

In 2021, we started a conversation with Vale, which also works with the genome and microbiology matter, and this is also our objective.