Fundamental Science: Brazil can lead the transition to a circular bioeconomy

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Fundamental Science: Brazil can lead the transition to a circular bioeconomy

Brazil is the nation with the greatest biodiversity on the planet, with 15% to 20% of the estimated number of species. According to data from the Federal Government, there are around 116,000 animal species and 46,000 plant species cataloged, scattered across terrestrial biomes and marine ecosystems. Despite seeming expressive data, it is estimated that these numbers represent only a small percentage of the diversity of the country, since the identity of hundreds of thousands of other organisms remains a mystery.

Much of this biodiversity, however, before it is even known, is threatened by unsustainable human activities. The uncontrolled devastation of the Amazon, for example, means that we are at a time when the rate of destruction is much faster than the speed of discovery of new species.

It’s a race against time scenario, because each time an area is deforested, we destroy part of the biodiversity that we will never know again — once lost, it will probably be forever. This is because many species are found only in a certain region of the globe, and nowhere else. They are the endemic species, which require attention regarding their preservation. In Brazil, there is special concern with the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado, biomes classified as hotspots of biodiversity because they are regions with exceptional levels of endemism and serious percentages of habitat loss.

In addition to the environmental impact, the loss of our biodiversity and the ignorance about it need to be analyzed from the point of view of possible economic impacts and missed development opportunities. Essential activities for the Brazilian economy, such as agriculture and the production of food and beverages, are highly dependent on the balance of nature. It is nonsense to expand these activities without considering the consequences of the loss of diversity in these production systems in the medium and long term.

Biodiversity should also be considered an asset to leverage economic and social development in Brazil. By ignoring its potential, we stopped producing new bioproducts, such as medicines, food supplements, biofuels and cosmetics, among others.

It is in this context that in recent decades the world has been discussing opportunities to move into the bioeconomy era. First of all, it is necessary to point out that the term bioeconomy can have many meanings, depending on the interlocutor. The one that can significantly benefit Brazil is the one that makes use of natural resources together with new technologies to create more sustainable products and services, without harming biodiversity. In the case of Brazil, a country with a consolidated presence in agribusiness, it is also interesting to incorporate circular economy concepts into the bioeconomy. The circular bioeconomy model will generate production chains with less waste, through the implementation of closed-loop economic systems that make full use of raw materials, as waste generated in a process becomes raw material in the production of new products. products, adding value to the chain as a whole.

However, today, even taking into account what is already known, there are very few in-depth studies that allow us to take advantage of all the potential of our biodiversity. For example, if we look at productive chains of native fruits such as açaí, macaúba, cambuci, uvaia, jabuticaba or licuri, we will identify a range of residues with a chemical diversity still little explored, which in turn could be a source for obtaining new bioproducts and synthetic derivatives. These potentialities, however, will only be unveiled with the stimulus to research and scientific experimentation.

Such fundamental studies, ranging from the classification of new microorganisms, animals and plants to research aimed at industrial applications, can form the basis of decentralized and lasting sustainable development with the potential to impact local economies, since biodiversity varies from one biome to another. . For example, the production of inputs with high added value in the Amazon through biotechnology-based enterprises can increase the generation of jobs and the demand for professionalization of the local population, minimizing the effects of migration to large centers.

The abundance of natural resources puts the country in a privileged position to assume a world leadership role in the bioeconomy era. It is unlikely, however, that new medicines and biotechnological innovations will emerge while Brazilian biodiversity is not systematically and continuously researched and financed, with a multidisciplinary vision and long-term investments. Only the promotion of scientific research, in addition to investment in infrastructure and education, will give the country the opportunity to become an important player in the production of bioproducts with high added value. Thus, the rational exploitation of our natural resources can be added to our already consolidated production of commodities, supporting technological development.

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Ayla Sant’Ana da Silva is a researcher at the National Institute of Technology and professor at the Graduate Program in Biochemistry at UFRJ.

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