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Fiocruz enters into partnership to conduct research in Antarctica


Pamela Lang (AFN)


The Brazilian Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) approves Fiocruz's first research project in Antarctica. The project will have a four-year duration and researchers will embark on this new adventure at the end of 2019.

The partnership opens a new and important work front by Fiocruz in Antarctica.


According to project coordinator and Fiocruz researcher Wim Degrave, the impacts of Antarctica's rich and varied ecosystems on the health of animals and visitors on the very continent and on South America are still little studied. "Fiocruz project seeks to identify new and known pathogens that can potentially impact local ecosystems and ecosystems from nearby continents, including viruses, bacteria, fungi and helminths, as well as to assess the genetic diversity, virulence, and metabolic and genomic capacity of isolated microorganisms and viruses", explains Degrave.

Such approval represents the beginning of a long history of the institution in the frozen continent. Besides having its project approved, Fiocruz was invited to use one of the 17 labs in the new Comandante Ferraz Base, which the Brazilian government will reopen in Antarctica in March 2019. The invitation was made during a meeting held with the presence of Foundation president Nísia Trindade Lima, Secretary Rear Admiral Sergio Gago Guida, of the Ocean Resources Interministerial Commission (Cirm), of the Brazilian Marine Forces, General Coordinator of Oceans, Antarctica, and Geosciences Andrei Polejack, of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communication (MCTIC), and researches from different areas at Fiocruz.

This invitation sets the stage for a new and important work front by Fiocruz in Antarctica, a partnership entered into between the Foundation, CIRM Secretariat, and MCTIC General Coordination of Oceans, Antarctica and Geosciences.  

Fiocruz president said she is really proud to be part of such a strategic project for the country. "Partnering with the Marine Forces for research works in Antarctica has great potential, like broadening an integrated vision of health and the environment, in addition to the possibility of mapping out health risks. But maybe the greatest potential research in this continent has is in biotechnology. We are entering into a partnership to advocate for a strategic project in Brazil in favor of future generations", said Nísia Trindade Lima. 
According to Polejack, the main reason for seeking partnership with Fiocruz is being able to understand the external environment and what it has been generating in terms of biological evolution, as well as promoting a debate on marine bioprospecting.

"This renowned institution is also amazingly brave because it already works in a certain segment and it's willing to innovate. Brazil advanced in the Atlantic like no other country. Today, we are leaders in the region, but we don't know the Atlantic. I'm sure the greatest marine wealth is not geology, but organisms and other forms of life adapted to great environmental pressures. We must think outside the box and I don't see how we could execute our projects if it were not by partnering with Fiocruz", said the Secretary.

The meeting opens up research possibilities in several fronts, with new applications for marine biodiversity, biotechnology, human and animal health, bioremediation, environmental health, microbiodiversity, and potential impacts of ecosystems on human and animal health. 

For Fiocruz Production and Innovation Vice President Marco Krieger, the institution will have extensive ground to explore. "The project CNPq approved is the foundation, but we are expected to expand our field of action based on Fiocruz areas that can be strategic for the work to be performed in Antarctica", explains Krieger. 

According to Admiral Guida, Brazilian Antarctic Program (Proantar) brings a geostrategic perspective to Brazil, considering that Brazil is the sixth closest to Antarctica, an extremely important region for the future of our planet. The new base occupies an area of 4,500 square meters with modern facilities and a stunning view to Wanda blue glacier. It has 226 containers and ultra-freezers to store samples collected by Proantar researchers who have been conducting research in oceanography and biology since 1982. The new station can shelter up to 65 people.

Fiocruz was also invited to take part in two committees set up by the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovations and Communications: the Ocean Science Committee that assists the Minister in taking measures that lead to the approval of a National Policy of Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sea and its development; and the National Committee for Antarctic Research that addresses scientific and technological activities and interests in Antarctica, and proposes rules and guidelines within the Brazilian Antarctic Program.

Invited by Proantar, president Nísia Trindade Lima visited Antarctica earlier this month for the first time to check out the new facilities of Comandante Ferraz Base.

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