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Tech Roundup, Dec. 13, 2019 | Brazil’s promising genome project

. Dec 13, 2019
Tech Roundup Dec. 13, 2019 | Brazil's promising genome project Genome research using modern biotechnology methods. Photo: Sergei Drozd/Shutterstock

You’re reading The Brazilian Report‘s weekly tech roundup, a digest of the most important news on technology and innovation in Brazil. This week’s topics: Brazil’s genome mapping project could be a game-changer. How WhatsApp became the go-to “newsstand” for Brazilians. The economic crisis reshaped Google searches.


Mapping Brazil’s genome

A partnership between public universities and private companies will map

the DNA of 15,000 Brazilian citizens, making the data available for scientists. The project, called &#8220;Brazil&#8217;s DNA,&#8221; will be funded by clinical laboratory firm Dasa, which built a BRL 6 million lab and will map the 3,000 genomes free of charge—conditioned to it being hired for the mapping of another 12,000 (for a cost of USD 650 per genome).</p> <p><strong>Why it matters. </strong>It is the biggest initiative of its kind ever put forward in Latin America, and should help developing medical genetics studies to become more relevant to multiracial populations such as Brazil&#8217;s.</p> <p>&#8220;We will be able to develop tests for diseases based on our genetics—not on the genome of Finnish populations, for instance,&#8221; said Lygia da Veiga Pereira, a geneticist at the University of São Paulo and the idealizer of the project.</p> <p><strong>Reach.</strong> The database to be used will be that of a grand scale clinical trial underway since 2008, the Longitudinal Adult Health Study (ELSA). That will allow researchers to cross data between genome sequences and complex, multi-factor diseases, such as diabetes and Alzheimer&#8217;s.</p> <p><strong>Cloud.</strong> The University of São Paulo closed a deal to store the data free of charge on Google Cloud. Of course, the big tech behemoth is not doing this out of its love for science. Google may be salivating over access to the data that is going to be produced, considering that its parent company, Alphabet, is dabbling in a <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/06/alphabet-most-ambitious-health-care-projects.html">wide range of healthcare projects</a> across its different companies, including Verily and Calico.</p> <p><strong>Show me the money.</strong> There&#8217;s still no money to fund the genome mapping beyond the 3,000 sequences to be analyzed by Dasa. &#8220;I went to the Science and Technology Ministry, but they said there are no funds,&#8221; said Ms. Pereira. She is talking to many foundations and hopes that the notoriety the study may get will help in fundraising</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>WhatsApp, Brazil&#8217;s go-to &#8220;newsstand&#8221;</h2> <p>A study by Brazil&#8217;s Congress showed WhatsApp as the main source for news for 79 percent of Brazilians. The survey was carried out in all states, with a sample of 2,400 people (respecting proportions of Brazil&#8217;s population in terms of race, gender, religion, education level, and income). Interviews were carried out over the phone, through the month of October.</p> <p><strong>More or less. </strong>The survey&#8217;s confidence level is 2 percentage points.</p> <p><strong>Top app.</strong> With over 136 million users, WhatsApp is Brazil&#8217;s most popular phone app. A <a href="https://brazilian.report/tech/2019/11/01/brazil-first-blockchain-baby-born-tech-roundup/">study</a> by Deloitte showed that no less than 80 percent of the app’s users in Brazil check their WhatsApp notifications <em>at least</em> once an hour.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/856199"></div><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> WhatsApp&#8217;s popularity turned it into a highly-effective political tool—with <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2018/12/06/brazil-election-social-media-democracy/">dangerous consequences for democracy</a>. Every single presidential candidate in 2018 hired (illegally) social media companies to send hundreds of millions of messages to voters smearing each other.&nbsp;</p> <p>The most prominent case involved Jair Bolsonaro, as newspaper <em>Folha de S.Paulo</em> <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/10/25/whatsapp-scandal-jair-bolsonaro/">revealed in detail</a> a scheme to use WhatsApp for electoral gain.</p> <p><strong>Rise to popularity.</strong> WhatsApp became a hit in Brazil at the beginning of the decade—providing something lacking in Brazil: free text messages. Unlike in many countries, Brazilians paid for each SMS they used to send (with telecom companies only offering free text bundles for use with other numbers on the same cell phone provider). Until 2016, it cost USD 0.99 per year—but the app quickly paid for itself.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Job crisis reflected on Google search history</h2> <p>Brazil&#8217;s sluggish economy affected how Brazilians used search engines. Google published the most-searched terms in 2019, with some expected entries, such as strings related to football or names of celebrities who died this year. But &#8220;job openings&#8221; has crept to the fifth position.</p> <p><strong>Snapshot.</strong> While unemployment rates have gone down slightly in past months, Brazil still has 11.8 million people out of work. And in the 12 months leading up to October, of the 492,000 net jobs opened, 27 percent were positions of up to 20 hours a week.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>A job is a job, right?</strong> Not really. Intermittent jobs pay drastically less than full-time positions, bringing nuance to the positive unemployment figures: rates are going down, but the new jobs available are more precarious—adding to people&#8217;s unrest and their willingness to find a new job.</p> <p><strong>The list.</strong> Here are the top 10 most-searched terms in Brazil this year:</p> <ol><li>Copa América</li><li>Tabela do Brasileirão (Série A table)</li><li>Gugu Liberato (TV presenter who died in November)</li><li>Vagas de emprego (job openings)</li><li>Gabriel Diniz (singer)</li><li>Thanos (Marvel villain)</li><li>Flamengo X Vasco da Gama (football match)</li><li>Ricardo Boechat (journalist who died after a <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/02/15/ricardo-boechat-helicopter-brazil/">helicopter crash</a>)</li><li>Copa do Mundo de Futebol Feminino (<a href="https://brazilian.report/sports/2019/11/18/2019-defining-year-brazilian-womens-football/">Women&#8217;s Football World Cup</a>)</li><li>Caio Junqueira (actor who died in January)</li></ol> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Take note</h2> <p><strong>You&#8217;ve been served! </strong>A new <a href="http://www.in.gov.br/web/dou/-/portaria-n-868-de-11-de-dezembro-de-2019-233216913">ordinance</a> by the Justice Ministry allows its internal affairs committee to serve subpoenas via messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Telegram. There are a few caveats, though: parties must opt-in to this new type of communication and turn on read receipts (the famous blue ticks). Lawyers will then attach a screenshot to cases.</p> <p><strong>Mining.</strong> The government created a four-person committee formed by the Mines and Energy and Science and Technology Ministries to create an &#8220;integrated strategy&#8221; to bring innovation to Brazil&#8217;s mining sector. Meetings will happen on a weekly basis, and the committee&#8217;s activities will run for 45 days.</p> <p><strong>Google it.</strong> The state government of São Paulo has signed a <a href="https://gizmodo.uol.com.br/google-estado-sp-codigo-endereco-propriedades-rurais/">partnership with Google</a> to finally allow residents of some rural areas to have formal addresses. Around 340,000 properties (housing over 2 million people) will be given shortcodes based on their latitude and longitude coordinates. According to the government, the project will bring more effectiveness to the distribution of agricultural goods from the countryside of São Paulo.</p> <p><strong>Omnipresent.</strong> Google&#8217;s voice assistant is now integrated to apps of banks Banco do Brasil and Nubank (finance) and delivery platforms iFood and Rappi—users will now be able to wire money, check bank statements or order meals with voice commands.</p> <p><strong>QR codes.</strong> Meanwhile, Banco Original—one of Brazil&#8217;s first all-digital banks—has launched a new technology allowing customers to use ATMs without the need of a credit or debit card. Only the bank&#8217;s app and a QR code will be necessary to make transactions. QR codes are the main payment type in China (and the country is already moving toward <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/19/tencents-wechat-china-may-soon-use-facial-recognition-for-payments.html">facial recognition payments</a>), but are only now starting to popularize in Brazil.&nbsp;

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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