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Designing people: GMO generation

Designing people: GMO generation 86

Many of us are born with qualities that help us better compete in society: beauty, intelligence, spectacular appearance or physical strength. Due to the success of genetics, it begins to seem that soon we will become available to something that was not previously subject to – to “design” people even before they were born. 

To ask the necessary qualities, if they are not given by nature, predetermining the opportunities so necessary in life. We do this with cars and other inanimate objects, but now that the human genome has been decoded and we are already learning to edit it, it seems that we are getting closer to the emergence of so-called “designer”, “designed” children. Does it seem that way or will it soon become reality?

Lulu and Nana from Pandora’s Box

The birth of the first children with a modified genome at the end of 2019 caused a serious resonance in the scientific community and among the public. He Jiankui, a biologist at the Southern University of Science and Technology, China  (SUSTech)   – On November 19, 2018, on the eve of the second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong, in an interview with the Associated Press,  announced the birth of the first children in history with an edited genome.

The twin girls were born in China. Their names, as well as the names of their parents, were not disclosed: the first “GMO children” on the planet are known as Lulu and Nana. According to the scientist, the girls are healthy, and interference with their genome has made the twins immune to HIV.

The event, which may seem like a new step in the development of mankind, or at least medicine, as already mentioned, did not cause positive emotions among the scientist’s colleagues. On the contrary, he was condemned. Government agencies in China began an investigation, and all experiments with the human genome in the country were temporarily banned.

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He Jiankui /  ©  apnews.com/Mark Schiefelbein

The experiment, not appreciated by the public, was as follows. The scientist took sperm and eggs from the future parents, carried out in vitro fertilization with them, he edited the genomes of the resulting embryos using the CRISPR / Cas9 method  . After the embryos were implanted into the lining of the woman’s uterus, the girls’ expectant mother was not infected with HIV – unlike the father, who was a carrier of the virus.

The CCR5 gene , which encodes a membrane protein used by the human immunodeficiency virus to enter cells, was edited  . If it is modified, a person with such an artificial mutation will be resistant to infection with the virus.

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Lulu and Nana /  ©  burcualem.com

The mutation that He Jiankui tried to create artificially is called  CCR5 Δ32 : it is also found in nature, but only in a few people, and has long attracted the attention of scientists. Experiments in mice in 2016 showed that  CCR5 Δ32  affects the functioning of the hippocampus, significantly improving memory. Its carriers are not only immune to HIV, but also recover faster after a stroke or traumatic brain injury, have better memory and learning abilities than “ordinary” people.

However, so far no scientist can guarantee that  CCR5 Δ32  does not carry any unknown risks and that such manipulations with the CCR5 gene   will not cause negative consequences for the carrier of the mutation. Now the only negative consequence of such a mutation is known: the organism of its owners is more susceptible to West Nile fever, but this disease is quite rare.

Meanwhile, the university where the Chinese scientist worked disowned its employee. The alma mater stated that they did not know about He Jiankui’s experiments, which they called a gross violation of ethical principles and scientific practice, and he was engaged in them outside the walls of the institution.

It should be noted that the project itself did not receive independent confirmation and did not pass peer review, and its results were not published in scientific publications. All we have is just a scientist’s statements.

He Jiankui’s work violated the international moratorium on such experiments. The ban is established at the legislative level in almost all countries. Colleagues of the geneticist agree that the use of CRISPR / Cas9 genomic editing  technology  in humans carries enormous risks.

But the key point of criticism is that the work of the Chinese geneticist has nothing innovative: no one has undertaken such experiments before due to fear of unpredictable consequences, because we do not know what problems modified genes can create for their carriers and descendants.

As the British geneticist Maryam Khosravi said on her Twitter account: “If we can do something, it does not mean that we have to do it.”

By the way, in October 2018, even before the shocking statement of the Chinese scientist, Russian geneticists from the Kulakov National Medical Research Center of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Perinatology also announced the successful change of the CCR5  gene  using the CRISPR / Cas9 genomic editor   and obtaining embryos that are not subject to the effects of HIV. Naturally, they were destroyed, so that it did not come to the birth of children.

40 years before

Fast forward four decades. In July 1978, Louise Brown was born in the UK – the first child born as a result of in vitro fertilization. Then her birth caused a lot of noise and indignation, and went to the parents of the “test-tube baby”, and the scientists, who were nicknamed “doctors of Frankenstein.”

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Louise Brown. In childhood and now /  ©  dailymail.co.uk

But if that success frightened some, it gave others hope. So, today on the planet there are more than eight million people who owe their birth to the IVF technique, and many of the prejudices that were popular then have been dispelled.

True, there was one more concern: since the IVF method assumes that a “ready” human embryo is placed in the uterus, it may be genetically modified before implantation. As we can see, after a few decades, this is exactly what happened.

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IVF procedure /  ©  freepik.com

So can a parallel be drawn between the two events – the birth of Louise Brown and the Chinese twins Lula and Nana? Is it worth arguing that Pandora’s box is open and very soon it will be possible to “order” a child created according to a project, that is, a designer one. And most importantly – will the attitude of society towards such children change, as it has practically changed towards children “from a test tube” today?

Embryo selection or genetic modification?

However, it’s not just genome editing that brings us closer to a future where children will have pre-planned qualities. Lulu and Nana owe their birth not only to CRISPR / Cas9 gene editing  technologies  and IVF, but also to preimplantation genetic diagnosis of embryos (PGD). During his experiment, He Jiankui used PGD of edited embryos to detect chimerism and off-target errors.

And if editing human embryos is prohibited, then preimplantation genetic diagnostics, which consists in sequencing the genome of embryos for some hereditary genetic diseases, and the subsequent selection of healthy embryos, is not. PGD ​​is a kind of alternative to prenatal diagnostics, only without the need to terminate pregnancy in case of genetic abnormalities.

Experts point out that the first “legitimate” designer children will be obtained precisely through the selection of embryos, and not as a result of genetic manipulation.

In the process of PGD, embryos obtained using in vitro fertilization are subjected to genetic screening. The procedure involves removing cells from embryos at a very early stage of development and “reading” their genomes. All or part of the DNA is read to determine which variants of genes it carries. Afterwards, the parents-to-be will be able to choose which embryos to implant in the hope of pregnancy.

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Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) /  © vmede.org

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis is already being used by couples who believe they carry genes for certain inherited diseases to identify embryos that lack those genes. In the United States, such testing is used in about 5% of IVF cases. It is usually performed on three to five day old embryos. Such tests can detect genes that carry about 250 diseases, including thalassemia, early Alzheimer’s disease and cystic fibrosis.

However, today PGD is not very attractive as a technology for designing children. The procedure for obtaining eggs is unpleasant, carries risks and does not provide the required number of cells for selection. But everything will change as soon as it becomes possible to obtain more eggs for fertilization (for example, from skin cells), and at the same time, the speed and cost of genome sequencing will increase.

Bioethicist Henry Greeley of Stanford University in California states, “Almost everything you can do with gene editing, you can do with embryo selection.”

Is DNA Destiny?

According to experts, in the coming decades in developed countries, progress in technologies for reading the genetic code recorded in our chromosomes will give an increasing number of people the opportunity to sequence their genes. But using genetic data to predict what kind of person an embryo will become is harder than it sounds.

Research into the genetic basis of human health is certainly important. Still, geneticists have done little to dispel simplistic ideas about how genes affect us.

Many people believe that there is a direct and unambiguous connection between their genes and traits. The idea of ​​the existence of genes directly responsible for intelligence, homosexuality, or, for example, musical abilities, is widespread. But even using the example of the aforementioned CCR5 gene  , a change in which affects the brain, we saw that everything is not so simple.

There are many – mostly rare – genetic diseases that can be accurately recognized by a specific gene mutation. As a rule, there really is a direct connection between such a gene breakdown and the disease.

The most common diseases or medical predispositions – diabetes, heart disease, or certain cancers – are associated with several or even many genes and cannot be predicted with any certainty. In addition, they depend on many environmental factors – for example, on a person’s diet.

But when it comes to more complex things like personality and intelligence, we don’t know much here about which genes are involved. However, scientists do not lose their positive attitude. As the number of people whose genomes have been sequenced increases, we will be able to learn more about this area.

Meanwhile, Euan Birney, director of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, hinting that decoding the genome will not answer all questions, notes: “We must get away from the idea that your DNA is your destiny.”

Conductor and orchestra

However, this is not all. Not only genes are responsible for our intelligence, character, physique and appearance, but also epigens – specific tags that determine the activity of genes, but do not affect the primary structure of DNA.

If the genome is a set of genes in our body, then the epigenome is a set of tags that determine the activity of genes, a kind of regulatory layer located, as it were, on top of the genome. In response to external factors, he commands which genes should work and which should sleep. The epigenome is the conductor, the genome is the orchestra, in which each musician has his own part.

Such commands do not affect DNA sequences, they simply turn on (express) some genes and turn off (repress) others. Thus, not all genes that are on our chromosomes work. The manifestation of a particular phenotypic trait, the ability to interact with the environment, and even the rate of aging depend on which gene is blocked or unblocked.

The most famous and, as it is believed, the most important epigenetic mechanism is DNA methylation, the addition of CH3 group by DNA enzymes – methyltransferases to cytosine – one of the four nitrogenous bases in DNA.

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Epigenome /  ©  celgene.com

When a methyl group is attached to the cytosine of a gene, the gene is turned off. But, surprisingly, in such a “dormant” state, the gene is passed on to the offspring. Such a transfer of characters acquired by living things during life is called epigenetic inheritance, which persists for several generations.

Epigenetics – the science called the little sister of genetics – studies how turning genes on and off affects our phenotypic traits. According to many experts, it is in the development of epigenetics that the future success of the technology for creating designer children lies.

By adding or removing epigenetic “tags”, we can, without affecting the DNA sequence, fight both diseases that have arisen under the influence of unfavorable factors, and expand the “catalog” of the planned child’s design characteristics.

Is the Gattaki scenario and other fears real?

Many fear that from editing the genome – in order to avoid serious genetic diseases – we will move on to improving people, and there it is not far before the emergence of a superman or the ramification of humanity into biological castes, as Yuval Noah Harari predicts.

Bioethicist Ronald Greene of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire believes technological advances can make “human design” more accessible. In the next 40-50 years, he says:

“we will see the use of gene editing and reproductive technologies to improve humans; we can choose the color of eyes and hair for our child, we want improved athletic ability, reading or numeracy skills, and so on.”

However, the emergence of designer children is fraught with not only unpredictable medical consequences, but also deepening social inequality.

As bioethical scientist Henry Greeley points out, a 10% to 20% achievable health improvement through PGD that complements the benefits already generated by wealth could lead to a widening gap in the health status of rich and poor, both in society and between countries.

And now, terrible images of a genetic elite, like the one depicted in the dystopian thriller Gattaca, arise in the imagination: the progress of technology has led to the fact that eugenics has ceased to be considered a violation of moral and ethical norms, and the production of ideal people is put on stream. 

In this world of humanity is divided into two social classes – “fit»  (the valid)  and “worthless»  (in-the valid) . The former, as a rule, are the result of the parents’ visit to the doctor, and the latter are the result of natural fertilization. All doors are open to “good”, and “unfit”, as a rule, are overboard.

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Still from the film “Gattaca” (1997, USA)

Let’s return to our reality. We noted that it is not yet possible to predict the consequences of interference with the DNA sequence: genetics does not provide answers to many questions, and epigenetics is actually at an early stage of development. Each experiment with the birth of children with a modified genome is a significant risk that in the long term can turn into a problem for such children, their descendants and, possibly, the entire human species.

But the progress of technology in this area, having saved us, probably from some problems, will add new ones. The emergence of perfect in all respects designer children who, having matured, become members of society, can create a serious problem in the form of deepening social inequality already at the genetic level.

There is another problem: we did not look at the topic under consideration through the eyes of a child. People sometimes tend to overestimate the capabilities of science, and the temptation to replace the need for painstaking care of their child, his upbringing and study with paying bills in a specialized clinic can be great. What if the designer kid, in whom so much money has been invested and who has so many expectations, falls short of those hopes? If, despite the intelligence programmed in the genes and a spectacular appearance, he does not become what they wanted to do? Genes are not destiny yet.

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Underworld

Why are Spanish scientists working to create a chimera of man and ape in China?

Why are Spanish scientists working to create a chimera of man and ape in China? 94

The Internet is full of rumors. So, according to the leaked studies of Spanish scientists, as reported by El Pais, the world’s first ape-human hybrid was created in a Chinese laboratory. 

Lead author Juan Carlos Ispisua previously worked on pig and human embryos. The proposed research goal is to use animals to create organs for human transplantation. In the course of the work, scientists injected human stem cells into the monkey embryo, allowing the cells to create any kind of tissue within the embryo. But for ethical reasons, the Spanish authorities stopped the experiment before the animals began to get pregnant. For this reason, Spanish scientists were forced to conduct an experiment in China, since the country has a large infrastructure in transgenic scientific field – in other words,

The research project was led by biologist Juan Carlos Ispisua, who also runs a laboratory at the Salk Institute of California. The stated aim of the work is to figure out how to use animals to create organs for human transplantation.

Creation of chimeras ape man

Despite the fact that the word “chimera” sounds intimidating, their creation is relatively simple and not even scary. Scientists inject human embryonic stem cells into another species of embryo that is only a few days old. Ispisua has experience with this kind of research, as he previously tried to add human cells to pig embryos. As his research with pigs ran into obstacles, he turned to experiments on primate embryos.

During the creation of chimeras, scientists genetically engineer certain types of animal cells to be disabled so that human stem cells have a better chance of anchoring. This kind of research is prohibited in a number of countries, but in China, for example, there are no such laws.

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Japanese scientist plans to insert human cells into rat embryos (pictured)


It is important to understand that the human-ape hybrid in question has never been born. The fact is that mixed embryos do not progress after one to two weeks of growth in the laboratory. In a statement to El País, Estrella Nunez, biologist and administrator of the Catholic University of Murcia, said that mechanisms have been created to stop the progressive growth of the embryo.

The creation of the ape-man chimera, like other such experiments, has generated mixed reactions from the general public. For example, a number of ethical questions have been raised, such as the fear that human stem cells might somehow migrate into the brain of a monkey embryo. Dr. ngel Raya of the Barcelona Center for Regenerative Medicine told El Pais the following:

What happens if stem cells break out and form human neurons in the animal’s brain? Will he have consciousness? What happens if these stem cells turn into sperm?

However, Nunez notes that human cells self-destruct if they enter the brain. In addition, there is an established agreed date for the destruction of all such chimeras – 14 days of pregnancy. This is necessary so that the embryo does not have time to develop the central nervous system.

The consequences of such studies

Nunez described her findings as “very promising,” and said the study was pending peer review in a reputable scientific journal. At the moment, we are not aware of the full scope of the experiment, as the results have not yet been published.

Notably, this news came after Japan became the first country to approve experiments with human and animal embryos. The Japanese government intends to allow stem cell researchers to conduct experiments with the same goal – one day, create organs that could be transplanted into humans.

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Genetic engineering is developing rapidly, which sometimes causes alarm to the general public


There is still debate over whether this is the best method. Pablo Ross, a UC Davis veterinarian who has worked on experiments on pig and human chimeras, doesn’t believe it makes sense to grow human organs in monkey cells, for example. 

“I’ve always thought there was no point in using primates for this. They are usually very small and take too long to develop, ”he said in an interview with Big Think.

Ross believes that researchers may be looking for answers to more fundamental scientific questions, such as “evolutionary distance and interspecies barriers,” since the creation of chimeras causes disgust in both the public and ethicists. Whether the research proves to be valid or productive, it still – at first glance – continues to push the boundaries of biological and genetic research.

Although China has already made a mistake with the scientist He Juankui, who edited the genes of two babies, the country’s open laws generally allow for more daring experiments.

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Scientists create meat from human cells. Its name is ‘Ouroboros’

Scientists create meat from human cells. Its name is 'Ouroboros' 97

A group of American scientists and designers have created meat grown from human cells, according to Deezen.

The grown steak was named Ouroboros by scientists. This word denotes a snake biting its own tail and is an ancient symbol of eternity and the cyclical nature of life. The authors of the project themselves do not consider this method of manufacturing cannibalism.

In addition, the creators believe that such meat can be grown in eateries or right at home. To get a steak, you need to harvest your own cells from the inside of your cheek and then place them in expired blood serum. As a result, a piece of meat the size of one bite grows from the cells. The whole growing process takes three months.

The authors emphasize that the advantage of the study is the absence of harm to animals. A person gets all the same meat, but no one dies. The scientists used expired donated blood as a basis. If it had not been taken for development, then the doctors would have simply disposed of it.

McDonald’s began testing a meatless burger last September. Restaurants in Germany, for example, have added vegetarian burgers to their menus. It is not yet known how many vegan items on the McDonald’s menu will appear next year and in which countries they will be available. 

Earlier in November, it became known that the restaurant chain plans to launch its own vegan McPlant burger cutlet next year. So far, we are talking about a beef substitute, but in the future, vegan chicken may appear in the chain’s restaurants. The project involves the manufacturer of artificial meat Beyond Meat.

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Underworld

World Economic Forum Project: “Resetting the Agenda for the Future: Destruction and Renewal in the Post-COVID World”

World Economic Forum Project: "Resetting the Agenda for the Future: Destruction and Renewal in the Post-COVID World" 98

Nowadays, few people are interested in what is happening in the world in general – in fact. The era of free Internet has long passed and imperceptibly and even routinely – “Big Brother” put this once free space under complete control. The main streams of information are controlled by the leading media, TV and two monopolists “G” and “I”.

Now we are witnessing a banal “carrot and stick” method, when the fundamental changes affecting the very near future of human society are hidden under the waves of fear of “terrible Covid” and wrapped in a white and fluffy, unobtrusively stupefying information field, and in the meantime we stand on the threshold of total lack of freedom.

We guess that hardly any of you have read the draft of the World Economic Forum (WEF): “ Resetting the Agenda for the Future: Destruction and Renewal in the Post-COVID World», Which was published on October 2, 2020. This is our very present and the nearest future. After reading this report, the plot of Orwell’s book 1984 comes to mind – which I consider to be a warning to all mankind, which is that if the course of history does not change, people around the world will lose their most human qualities, turn into soulless automata and will not even suspect about it.

Only this book by Orwell, in comparison with the WEF project, will seem like a children’s fairy tale. The only problem is that this is not a fairy tale and not a fantasy on the topic, but a guide to action. The period allotted for implementation is ten years. These plans will be implemented by 2030 – the UN agenda for 2021-2030 should be completed by that time.

Great Reboot & Planned business measures in response to COVID-19:


1. Accelerate the digitization of work processes (eg, use of digital tools, video conferencing)
2. It is planned that about 83% of people will work remotely – ie. there will be no more interaction between colleagues – absolute social distancing, the separation of humanity from human contact.
3. It is planned to automate about 50% of all tasks – in other words, human participation will be significantly reduced, even when working remotely.
4.advanced training / retraining (for example, educational technology providers) – 42% of advanced training or training in new skills will be digitized, in other words, without contact with people – everything on a computer, using artificial intelligence (AI), algorithms.
5.  Accelerating the introduction of advanced training / retraining programs – 35% of skills are planned to be “readjusted” – ie. it is planned to abandon the existing skills.
6.Accelerating ongoing organizational changes (eg restructuring) – 34% of existing organizational structures are planned to be “restructured” – or in other words, existing organizational structures will be declared obsolete to make room for new sets of organizational structures, digital structures that provide maximum control over all activities …
7.Reassign workers temporarily to other tasks – 30% of the workforce is expected to be affected. It also means a completely different pay scale – most likely unfit for living, which will make the planned “universal base wage” or “basic income” a reality – a wage that will allow you to barely make ends meet. This will put you completely dependent on a digital system that you have absolutely no control over.
8. Temporary workforce cuts are projected to affect 28% of the population. This is an additional unemployment rate in disguise, as “temporarily unemployed” will never return to full employment.
9. To permanently reduce the staff – 13% will be permanently reduced.
ten.Temporarily increase the labor force – 5% – there is no indication what type of labor force – probably unskilled labor, which sooner or later will also be replaced by automation, AI and robotization of jobs.
11. No specific measures have been implemented – 4% – does this mean that only 4% of jobs will remain untouched? 
12. Continuously Increase Workforce – Just 1% is forecasted as a “constantly expanding workforce”. This is not a joke, only 1%

World Economic Forum Project: "Resetting the Agenda for the Future: Destruction and Renewal in the Post-COVID World" 99

The Great Reset also provides a credit scheme that will “forgive” all of your personal debt – subject to the transfer of all personal assets to an administrative body or agency – possibly the IMF.

This means that you do not own anything – and you will be “happy”. Because everything you need will be provided to the extent that the system decides.

If human equality must be made impossible forever, if the higher ones, as we call them, want to keep their place forever, then the dominant state of mind must be controlled madness. (“1984” Orwell)

You will say “I will not agree to this!”, And who will ask you? Are you asked now? Will the Constitution ensure your rights? Will the laws ensure your rights? Do they provide them now? Think about Elon Musk’s global satellite system, think about 5 and 6G technologies, think about how to simply use it all to govern the new “digital world”.

In addition to the number of positive effects of giving employees the flexibility to work remotely, it also gives companies the opportunity to expand their employee base by looking outside of traditional sources — both geographically and demographically. Remote work removes physical boundaries that previously limited talent. reserve, and allows you to hire employees in different cities, countries. and continents. New ways of working open up new opportunities, allowing companies to find qualified employees around the world “- the problem is that there will no longer be an internal market for jobs and your job may be taken someone from “another country or another continent,” simply because he is more skilled, or less demanding. 

World Economic Forum Project: "Resetting the Agenda for the Future: Destruction and Renewal in the Post-COVID World" 100

In the UK, 48% of telecommuters reported long and irregular working hours, and 60% said they had increased fatigue symptoms. Working at night, the inability to get rest after a working day, since the very concept of “working day” has disappeared.

“The impact of COVID-19 has led companies around the world to suddenly redefine the role of the office. The traditional goals of a company’s dedicated space include fostering team interaction, creating a sense of community, performing certain types of work in which materials and equipment cannot be transferred, and providing a workplace for those who do not have the infrastructure at home or the ability to work effectively remotely. However, in the long run, offices may not be an important component for all employees. Facebook, for example, expects that half of its employees will work remotely in the future.”

Teleworking increases the risk of isolation and mental health problems. In the US, 88% of workers said they were under moderate to severe stress during the pandemic, and more than two-thirds said it was the most stressful
period of their careers. 

World Economic Forum Project: "Resetting the Agenda for the Future: Destruction and Renewal in the Post-COVID World" 101

Brave New World or Digital Prison?

Employees working entirely remotely overlook the camaraderie and casual interactions of office life. The British Institute for Employment Research found that 33% of workers often feel isolated when working remotely. 

What makes a person – a person, and human society – a society? Communication is live communication. Team relations are an important component of the formation of the whole society. If we deprive people of the opportunity for live communication in the process of work, we will break these ties, turning people not into society, but into separate, isolated citizens. At the same time, we will be able to fully control each “digital worker”, depriving him of the opportunity to participate in the “collective opinion”.

Social and human relationships are depleted. This has many advantages for the new “totalitarian” approach of the WEF to humanity – to control over humanity.

You had to live – and you lived, according to a habit that turned into instinct – with the knowledge that your every word is overheard and your every movement, until the light goes out, is watched. ( “1984” Orwell)

…and the living will envy the dead!

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