December 1, 2023
João Silva/The New York Times

Meet the hunter of Corona virus variants, the Brazilian one in the list of the top 10 scientists in Nature – Saúde

Brazilian Tulio de Oliveira He appeared in a press release on November 26, wearing a striped shirt, tousled hair and looking tired. A reflection of the intense race of the scientist and his team to sequence samples of the new strain Corona VirusAnd Which made headlines around the world and earned the title Omicron At that day. It’s not the researcher’s first discovery in the epidemic: He was also responsible for sequencing the beta, another version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus found in South Africa It was identified as a variable of concern by World Health Organization (WHO).

Oliveira is the Director of the South African Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation (Siri). On that day, after obtaining permission from President Cyril Ramaphosa, the scientist asked a meeting of the World Health Organization to discuss a new alternative.

The meeting brought together 100 of the most important scientists in the field, including the famous immunologist Anthony Fauci, who advises the White House on the fight against the Corona virus. “I’m the principal investigator for the South African Genomic Surveillance Network. I usually get very involved in speaking to other heads of genomic research groups around the world,” he says, who is a member of the WHO’s Viral Evolution Group, for condition.

The warning about Ômicron and other variants led Oliveira to a more specific group: This week it was listed among the ten most influential people on the planet by the magazine. temper nature, together with engineer Zhang Rongqiao, who coordinated a Chinese mission to Marsand German climatologist Friedrich Otto.

However, being the bearer of bad news is not just about glories. After alerting humanity to the new danger, he and his colleagues are threatened with death. To continue working, they increased security at the university. “Unfortunately, this is normal, because the population in general still has difficulty understanding the pathogens and epidemics that will arise in different geographical areas,” he says.

He also regrets the response of many countries to Ômicron, with many air restrictions and few offers to send more doses of vaccines to poor countries. “In fact, a micron can come from anywhere in the world. Even the ban on flights from South Africa, it went everywhere.”

From AIDS to Dengue, in search of the path of the virus

Oliveira, who began his studies in Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), has been in South Africa since 1997 and has been with Genomic Surveillance for nearly 20 years. She has hundreds of publications in famous magazines like her temper natureAnd ScienceAnd Lancet e NEJM. Before the whole world works genetic monitoring“He says.

The sequencing skill was used in the African country to test for a virus lozenges. “We have largely applied the use of genomics to identify mutations in patients who have failed HIV treatments and tuberculosis, to put them on a more efficient course of treatment,” he explains.

Over the past two decades, the Ciri and Crisp Foundations, which are directed by Oliveira, have received Brazilian researchers. Says the scientist, working in partnership with national institutions, such as Fucruz.

Oliveira’s team was also behind sequencing other viruses known to Brazilians, such as ZikaWhich prompted the World Health Organization to declare an international emergency in 2016. yellow feverAnd dengue fever e Chikungunya. In 2019, his team installed mobile DNA sequencing laboratories, inside homes or buses, to track epidemics across Brazil. “We had a long journey,” he recalls. “We left Cuiaba and went to Campo Grande, and from there to Goiania, then Brasilia. From mid to late 2019 we had major outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya in the Midwest.”

Despite its use of genetic analysis, the difference in the pandemic was the speed and immediate usefulness of identifying variants. This has helped prepare healthcare networks for new waves of COVID-19. the South Africa is ahead of Brazil in monitoring the virus. The country tracks 0.82% of breeds, compared to 0.35% in Brazil. “What helps us a lot here in South Africa is that there is a lot of funding and support from the government. What, unfortunately, has not happened in Brazil in recent years. They cut a lot of money from science in Brazil,” Oliveira criticizes.

According to him, local authorities are insisting on listening to scientists to respond to the pandemic. For each variable selected, the connection is fast. “In less than 36 hours, I speak directly to the Minister of Science, Technology and Health, as well as the President of South Africa.” On the other hand, Brazil has stood out around the world for the denial of the authorities, such as President Jair Bolsonaro, to the health crisis.

In search of balance with nature

Oliveira is the son of a Mozambican woman, who returned to her homeland only after the end of apartheid in South Africa. She knew, according to the scientist, that the civil war in her homeland would end, because the conflict had the support of the South African apartheid regime.

The researcher and the sisters left Brazil and accompanied their mother. They stayed in Durban, a South African city close to Mozambique. He completed his studies in South Africa, and spent some time in Oxford, UK. Its curriculum also includes the universities of KwaZulu-Natal and Washington.

In addition to his work in academia, he spent ten years at The Wellcome Trust, an independent global charity dedicated to improving health. This year he returned to Stellenbosch, in the Cape Town area, to found Ceri.

Oliveira’s wife is from South Africa and they have three young children – take care of the kids while talking to condition This Thursday, 16 years old. Boys, every year, visit Brazil.

On social media, in addition to alerts about the epidemic, he posts pictures of the beautiful landscapes of South Africa. “We need quality of life to continue producing high-level science for a long time. I take life and part balance very seriously. Family leisure,” he says.

The balance between man and nature is also the key to preventing new epidemics. Viruses and other pathogens often originate from animals. With the environment destroyed, and cities encroaching on forests, there will be more and more new health crises.

“In Brazil, in the last 10 years, how many epidemics have we had with mosquito-borne viruses? This is because we are in the process of global warming and forest destruction, which has increased a lot,” he highlights. “Unfortunately, if we continue to not care about the environment, pathogens will emerge and pass through the population. Scientists will be under attack for their discovery.” He stresses that researchers are not the evil to be fought. We try to help prepare for responses to epidemics and epidemics. If you don’t know your enemy, you can’t face him.”