More than one Amazon at the forefront of innovation

Known for jungles, shanty towns and partying, Brazil has quietly turned itself into a scientific powerhouse. Iain Murray braves the white heat of Belo Horizontechnology

Particularly attentive marketers, ever on the qui vive for new and exciting money-making ideas, may have spotted a small item in the popular press reporting that the Brazilians have invented an edible clingfilm.

The commercial implications are enormous. Who among us, going about our hurried lives, just like poor Cherie Blair, juggling career and family, with scarcely a moment to draw breath, has not longed for the opportunity to grab a sandwich and to eat it, wrapping and all? Imagine the time saved in peeling off the wretched clingfilm, which, true to its name, sticks to everything. Add together those precious minutes and the average citizen, for whom lunch is at best a brief period of grazing, would be left with more time for the important things in life, such as daubing graffiti on train carriages and throwing litter on the pavement.

And to think that this life-enhancing invention came from Brazil, a country that, to be sure, has made its contribution to civilisation – most notably in the spheres of dance, carnival, coffee and football – but not, one had mistakenly imagined, in science.

Further investigation, however, reveals that this huge nation is a hotbed of scientific endeavour, with new discoveries being announced almost daily, many of them of great interest to marketers. The following, all true I promise you, are just a few.

Researchers at the Biological Science Institute at Brasilia University have come up with a new way of treating burns. They use frog skin. Professor Elisabeth Schwartz says: “The frog’s skin has components that diminish the growth of bacteria, making the wound heal faster and reducing the amount of time the patient has to stay in hospital.”

The skin, she adds, may be obtained from butchers, who discard it when preparing frog meat.

That last statement presents a problem to British burns units, since family butchers are a rarity on our high streets and those few that remain have long forgotten the art of preparing frog meat. Our neighbours across the Channel could prove a good source, though President Chirac might be unwilling to allow a precious national asset to be wasted on chargrilled Brits.

But before they raise an insouciant Gallic smile, the French should ponder another Brazilian invention. What will Parisian purveyors of scent make of the perfume pill, created by doctors from Ceara Federal University? The inventors say that people who take the pill three times a day will smell sweetly all the time, and will have no further need of alternative fragrances or deodorants. The challenge for marketing is daunting. Most of the appeal of perfume lies in its packaging, its mystique and its sensual application through atomiser or gentle dab behind the ears. Will Chanel be the same when it is washed down three times a day with a mug of tea?

In the helter-skelter world of science, there’s no time to stop and ponder the implications: it’s hey-ho, and on to the next breakthrough. And so it’s over to Embrapa Instrumentação Agropecuária in São Carlos, Brazil, where Antonio Riul has invented a robotic tongue.

He claims the tongue is so good that it could replace professional food tasters. It rivals human taste buds in accuracy but, unlike tongues made by nature, never loses its edge. Different tastes can be plotted on a graph for reference. A pocket version could certainly come in handy when dealing with snooty sommeliers. Instead of enduring the embarrassing ordeal of sampling a wine under the cold eye of the waiter, the tyro could dip the robotic tongue into the glass and produce a definitive reading ranging from “gorgeous with gooseberry undertones and echoes of freshly-mown thyme” through to “wouldn’t use it to wash my car”.

Mind you, the Brazilians are not infallible. Scientists at the University of São Paulo, eager to be part of the worldwide craze for genetic engineering, tried to produce a cloned cow but ended up with a bull.

The bovine boffins offer two explanations for their host cow giving birth to a male calf. Either she jumped a fence and made her own arrangements with a neighbouring bull before the scientists got to her, or the experts blundered and used a bull embryo by mistake.

Either way, the story came as good news to a Brazilian health centre that is pioneering laughter therapy. Patients who attend the weekly sessions at Fortaleza in north-eastern Brazil are encouraged to laugh out loud together. The centre’s Dr Jaqueline Sales says: “Laughter can help in the treatment of various conditions, especially those connected to depression, anxiety, hypertension and diabetes.”

Naturally, patients suffering from depression need a little encouragement, so to put them in the mood, staff organise activities such as paper fights and karaoke sessions, which make Brazilians laugh. I am not sure what a paper fight is but no doubt in the proper hands it quickly becomes both hilarious and therapeutic.

There is surely a lesson here for our own dear National Health Service. If only all those patients lying on trolleys in dark corridors waiting for treatment for hours on end could be persuaded to have a jolly good laugh, they would soon be up on their feet again.

Brazil is also famous for nuts.

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