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Merging Artificial Intelligence and Physics Simulations To Design Innovative Materials

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Monday, April 3, 2023

Max Planck scientists explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence in materials science and publish their review in the journal Nature Computational Science. Advanced materials become...

Max Planck scientists explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence in materials science and publish their review in the journal Nature Computational Science. Advanced materials become...

AI and Atom Illustration

Max Planck scientists explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence in materials science and publish their review in the journal Nature Computational Science. Advanced materials become...

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Arch Rivals: How Human Feet Differ From Our Primate Cousins – “Masterpiece of Evolution”

A comprehensive study reveals new insights into the evolution and complexity of the human foot, focusing on the medial longitudinal arch and its significance in...

Research on human foot evolution highlights the importance of the medial longitudinal arch and explores the variability in foot morphology, influenced by factors like lifestyle, footwear, and genetic traits. Credit: A comprehensive study reveals new insights into the evolution and complexity of the human foot, focusing on the medial longitudinal arch and its significance in differentiating Homo sapiens from primates. “The human foot is one of the most complex masterpieces of evolution, a work of art in biomechanics: not only it allows us to walk, run and jump, but it is also a true witness of our past and our present,” remarks Rita Sorrentino, researcher at the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Bologna and first author of an extensive study, published in Communication Biology, shedding new light on the complex evolution of our feet. The research activity involving researchers from the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute and the University of Pisa focused on the medial longitudinal arch of the foot: a unique characteristic that differentiates our specie — Homo sapiens — from non-human primates. Understanding the Longitudinal Arch and Flat Feet The longitudinal arch is a functional adaptation that allows the foot to switch from a shock absorber function to lever during the phases of contact and detachment with the ground, a mechanism that allows us to have an efficient bipedal walk. Despite its importance, however, it is still unclear when this characteristic appeared in the course of our evolutionary history. The topic of “flat feet” complicates the picture even more: it is a widespread condition that consists in a more or less pronounced flattening of the medial longitudinal arch. “Not all flat feet are the same and yet there is not a worldwide clinical definition of flat feet in human beings,” explained Alberto Leardini and Claudio Belvedere, scientists from the Laboratory of Movement Analysis and Functional Evaluation of Prosthesis of the Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute and among the authors of the study. Anatomical position of the navicular (orange) in the medial column of the foot (top). Along the bottom, renderings of an archaeological H. sapiens navicular (from the Frassetto identified human skeletal collection – University of Bologna) are illustrated in proximal (bottom left) and distal (bottom right) views. Placement of landmark and semi-landmark configurations are shown: five fixed landmarks (black), 46 curved semi-landmarks (light blue) describing corresponding articular surface contours, and 34 surface semi-landmarks (orange) on articular surfaces and the navicular tuberosity. Credit: Sorrentino et al. Communications Biology Navicular Bone and Foot Morphology Scientists have focused in particular on the role of the navicular bone in order to find answers, the keystone of the medial longitudinal arch of the foot. “The results of this research highlight the variation of navicular morphology among flat-footed people and people with a well-developed longitudinal arch,” explains Maria Giovanna Belcastro, professor at the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Bologna and research coordinator. “More specifically, people who developed flat feet during adulthood show differences concerning the navicular bone shape compared to those with regular arches or with inborn flat feet.” This development raises questions about the nature of inborn flat feet, suggesting that they may represent a normal variant of foot morphology, and thus highlighting the importance of bone morphology in the structure of the foot arch. Foot Morphology Influenced by Lifestyle Scientists also focused on another fascinating topic: differences within modern Homo sapiens population groups. Indeed, the results suggest that the development of the longitudinal arch may be influenced by factors such as the type of footwear, lifestyle, and prevailing locomotion strategies. “We have observed that individuals belonging to hunter-gatherer groups, who live without footwear, show feet that are more flexible in mobility and relatively flatter than those of populations using modern footwear,” explains Damiano Marchi, professor at the University of Pisa, one of the discoverers of Homo naledi and one of the coordinators of the study. “These differences may come from different cultural lifestyles and practices: the feet of hunter-gatherer populations could therefore represent a form closer to that of our prehistoric ancestors.” Comparing Modern and Ancient Feet The investigation also compared the structure of our feet with fossils of ancient Homo sapiens and other human species of the past. “Some of the fossils analyzed, such as those of Homo floresiensis, Australopithecus afarensis, and Homo naledi, show features in the navicular more similar to those of large non-human primates, suggesting an adaptation to both an arboreal and bipedal lifestyle,” explains Stefano Benazzi, professor at the Department of Cultural Heritage at the University of Bologna, one of the study coordinators. “At the same time, the Homo habilis fossils seem to have a configuration more similar to the feet of modern humans, indicating a possible presence of the longitudinal arch; however, this does not exclude the possible presence of a flat foot similar to today’s congenital flat feet, given the morphological similarity and proximity of the navicular to that of individuals with a developed longitudinal arch of the foot. Evolving Perspectives on Human Feet The research ultimately offers a new perspective on the evolution of the human foot and its variability, contributing to our understanding of how this body part has adapted to bipedal locomotion. Rita Sorrentino, first author of the study explains: “Our foot is a true witness to our past and our present, a fascinating chapter in the great history of human evolution. The results of this investigation provide a comprehensive overview of the morphological variability of the human foot throughout evolution and raise important questions about congenital flat feet, suggesting that they may represent a normal variant of human foot morphology.” Reference: “Morphological and evolutionary insights into the keystone element of the human foot’s medial longitudinal arch” by Rita Sorrentino, Kristian J. Carlson, Caley M. Orr, Annalisa Pietrobelli, Carla Figus, Shuyuan Li, Michele Conconi, Nicola Sancisi, Claudio Belvedere, Mingjie Zhu, Luca Fiorenza, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Tea Jashashvili, Mario Novak, Biren A. Patel, Thomas C. Prang, Scott A. Williams, Jaap P. P. Saers, Jay T. Stock, Timothy Ryan, Mark Myerson, Alberto Leardini, Jeremy DeSilva, Damiano Marchi, Maria Giovanna Belcastro and Stefano Benazzi, 19 October 2023, Communications Biology.DOI: 10.1038/s42003-023-05431-8 The study was published in Communications Biology under the title: “Morphological and evolutionary insights into the keystone element of the human foot’s medial longitudinal arch.” The investigations were conducted by an international, multidisciplinary team consisting of palaeoanthropologists, bioarchaeologists, biomechanical engineers and orthopaedists led by researchers at the University of Bologna from various departments: Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences (Maria Giovanna Belcastro, Annalisa Pietrobelli, and Rita Sorrentino), Industrial Engineering (Michele Conconi and Nicola Sancisi), Cultural Heritage (Stefano Benazzi and Carla Figus). Researchers and professionals from the following Universities and Institutes took part in the research: University of Pisa, IRCCS Rizzoli Ortophedic Institute, University of Southern California, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Colorado, Monash University, Collège de France – Paris, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Georgian National Museum, Institute for Anthropological Research – Zagreb, University of Southern California, Washington University in St. Louis, New York University, Naturalis Biodiversity Center – Leiden, Western University, The Pennsylvania State University, Dartmouth College.

Can the government's new market mechanism help save nature? Yes – if we get the devil out of the detail

Nature, everyone agrees, is in trouble. But can Australia’s new market-based mechanism help?

ShutterstockAustralians woke up this morning to discover they had a nature repair market, after the legislation passed late last night. Except it won’t be called a market, after amendments by the Greens, and it won’t include biodiversity offsets. Many experts have been highly sceptical of using market forces to reverse the damage we’ve done to nature. There is some truth to this. Markets seek to find the point of exchange between sellers (here, farmers and landholders) and buyers (fund managers, government and philanthropic organisations). When a government invents a market, it can try to make it appealing to politics, principles and buyers, while buyers work to drive prices and standards down, and volumes up. But as someone who has run nature-based market mechanisms in Australia for 20 years, I regard the passing of this legislation as a tentative step forwards. Market mechanisms can work, if done right. The sheer scale of what we have done to nature means we need large-scale action. Giving nature repair projects a tradeable value and government-backed quality assurance could help – if it works for both nature and investors. Even though the bill has passed, there is much detail we are yet to see. And as we all know, the devil is in the detail. Can a bill like this work without offsets? When first proposed, conservationists criticised the nature repair bill’s allowance of offsets – essentially, if you clear land for a development in one place, you have to revegetate or protect a similar amount of land elsewhere. That’s because offsets can be seen as an easy solution – pay money and you can still trash nature. Or a developer might rip out scarce threatened species habitat and replant acacias, of which we have a vast amount. Now the offsets are gone. Or are they? This bill is not the end of the line. The harder debate is yet to come as the government prepares reform of the far bigger Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – the main environmental protection laws we have at federal level, and widely regarded as not currently up to the task. The government is likely to include offsets in this act rather than the Nature Repair Act. Why? Because development of any kind involves making changes to nature – and we will need a lot of new infrastructure as we work towards net zero, such as transmission lines for renewable energy projects. The government will want to use offsetting to compensate nature for losses from new infrastructure. If there are no offsets available, you either do the development without trying to repair nature, or don’t do the development at all. The fight over offsetting may only have been kicked down the road. Read more: Australia relies on controversial offsets to meet climate change targets. We might not get away with it in Egypt So what do we have that we didn’t have yesterday? We will now have a market framework that will make it possible to buy and sell certificates generated by certified nature repair projects. For example, for koala habitat this could include reducing stock grazing, managing weeds and pest animals and agreeing to a covenant on the land to prevent future habitat loss due to development. This isn’t the first time we’ve tried to use market forces for nature. Auctions for biodiversity gains, for instance, have worked well in the past and are working now in New South Wales. Read more: The government hopes private investors will help save nature. Here's how its scheme could fail There are lessons to learn from the problems the carbon credit market has faced around integrity. But we don’t have to make the same mistakes for a biodiversity market. A recent review I coauthored of pilots for the previously proposed biodiversity market points to important lessons from earlier efforts. These include the vital importance of reducing upfront costs for landholders who want to get involved and building trust and confidence in the supporting arrangements. This will require some public investment to support landholders to meet the measurement and planning costs to participate in the market. Australia needs to act and act quickly to protect and restore nature where further degradation would be difficult or impossible to reverse. We have recognised the need for action and signed up to international commitments to protect and restore 30% of the continent’s lands and waters by 2030. Read more: 'Nature positive' isn't just planting a few trees – it's actually stopping the damage we do Why would investors plough money into nature? Many reasons. The main one is the growing recognition of how the health of nature underpins the global economy and traditional investment assets such as agriculture. The World Economic Forum estimates biodiversity credit values could reach A$3 billion by 2030 and $104 billion by 2050. Demand is rising, driven by regulation, corporate reputation and mission, market edge and attractiveness to investors. Organisations like the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures are driving work on nature-related risks and opportunities for finance globally. Agriculture and other sectors rely on the health of the natural world. Shutterstock While there has been scepticism about whether the market really exists for nature repair in Australia, there are some signs investors are ready. For instance, Western Australia’s first green bond was greatly oversubscribed at its launch this year, promising to invest in projects with environmental benefits such as energy transition. We won’t see investing in nature repair ramp up until all necessary laws and regulations are in place, projects begin to generate credits and the risks and opportunities are clear. This could take a couple of years, but could take longer if the reforms to the environment act are held up. The design of the new market remains unclear and its success in channelling private funds into genuine nature repair will depend on the standards and rules still to be set. We should set the standard high and make the most of our expertise in good governance, technology and innovation to make Australia’s natural world an attractive place to invest. Read more: Can a ‘nature repair market’ really save Australia’s environment? It’s not perfect, but it’s worth a shot Patrick O'Connor has received funding from the Australian Research Council, the South Australian, Victorian, New South Wales and Australian governments including the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust. He is a board director of the Nature Conservation Society of SA, a committee member of the Restoration Decade Alliance and a councillor of the Biodiversity Council.

Labor and Greens strike deal to establish nature repair market

Legislation being debated in the Senate will create a market to encourage private spending on projects that protect and restore biodiversityGet our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcastThe Albanese government and Greens have struck a deal to establish a nature repair market in exchange for fast-tracking an expansion of the water trigger to all unconventional gas projects.The deal would also prevent trades in a new nature market from being used as offsets for other destruction of habitat. Continue reading...

The Albanese government and Greens have struck a deal to establish a nature repair market in exchange for fast-tracking an expansion of the water trigger to all unconventional gas projects.The deal would also prevent trades in a new nature market from being used as offsets for other destruction of habitat.The nature repair market bill would create a market to encourage private spending on projects that protect and restore biodiversity. Businesses would receive tradeable certificates in return for their investment.The government’s proposal has been controversial and was the subject of a senate inquiry that was not due to report to parliament until next year. Support for the bill had collapsed earlier this year, with the Coalition, Greens and cross benchers indicating they would not back it.But the committee tabled its report on Monday, with the government bringing on debate of the bill in the senate on Tuesday.The government still requires the support of at least two cross bench senators or members of the Coalition for it to pass. Debate was continuing on Tuesday evening.The Greens moved an amendment that would mean trading of credits under the scheme as offsets for habitat destruction caused by other development would not be permitted. The government has indicated it intends to support this amendment.The inclusion of offsets was a key criticism of the original bill, with conservationists warning a new market meant to restore and increase nature could contribute to its ongoing decline. Concerns had also been raised about whether there was enough investment demand for the scheme to work,The government has also committed to supporting fast-tracked legislation to strengthen the water trigger so that it applies to all forms of unconventional gas.The existing water trigger requires the environment minister to consider the impact of large coal and coal seam gas proposals on local water resources. As part of reforms to national environmental laws, the government had promised to expand it to include all types of unconventional gas development, including the shale gas found in the Northern Territory’s Beetaloo Basin, where fracking is a looming issue.Both the Greens and the independent MP Sophie Scamps had urged the government to act sooner and had introduced their own bills calling for the government to expand the water trigger this year.If the repair market and water trigger bills pass, the environment minister Tanya Plibersek will have successfully negotiated the passage of three pieces of environmental legislation in the final two weeks of parliament.Legislation to amend the Murray Darling Basin plan passed last week.“Our nature repair market will make it easier to invest in restoring nature. It will support landholders to do things like replanting koala habitat, excluding livestock to repair natural marshland or eradicating feral species. This is an exciting chance to see extra investment in protecting our environment,” Plibersek said.“Expanding the water trigger is a sensible change that will make sure that we protect our most precious resource – water.”The Coalition and cross bench senators criticised the haste with which the bills had been brought on for debate.The opposition’s environment spokesperson Jonathon Duniam told the senate earlier on Tuesday that environment groups and business stakeholders had told the senate inquiry the parliament should first deal with the broader reforms to Australia’s nature laws.“But here we are today, having this legislation rushed through, four months of scrutiny cut off completely, with no notice.”

Toyota SUV adverts banned in UK on environmental grounds

Advertising Standards Authority says Hilux poster and video condone driving that disregards ‘impact on nature’The UK advertising watchdog has banned two Toyota adverts for condoning driving that disregards its environmental impact in a landmark ruling, stating that the SUV ads had been created without “a sense of responsibility to society”.It is the first time the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has blocked an SUV advert on the grounds of breaching social responsibility in an environmental context. Continue reading...

The UK advertising watchdog has banned two Toyota adverts for condoning driving that disregards its environmental impact in a landmark ruling, stating that the SUV ads had been created without “a sense of responsibility to society”.It is the first time the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has blocked an SUV advert on the grounds of breaching social responsibility in an environmental context.The regulator barred two ads, first released in a 2020 campaign: a poster and a video shown on social media, where dozens of Toyota Hilux cars drive across off-road terrain, including a river, while a voiceover describes the scene as “one of nature’s true spectacles”. The vehicles then join a road and drive through an urban area, before a lone car enters a driveway, with the voiceover continuing: “Toyota Hilux. Born to roam.” The poster shows two SUVs in the foreground, followed by a swarm of others traversing a rocky terrain over a cloud of dust.The complaint was lodged by Adfree Cities, a network of groups trying to get advertising out of public spaces. They argued, in partnership with the UK campaign group Badvertising, that the adverts condoned environmentally harmful behaviour, and are calling for an end to advertising of high-carbon products and services.The ASA ruled that the adverts “condoned the use of vehicles in a manner that disregarded their impact on nature and the environment … they had not been prepared with a sense of responsibility to society”.A poster showing two Toyota Hilux SUVs followed by a swarm of others. Photograph: Advertising Standards Authority/PAVeronica Wignall, a co-director at Adfree Cities, said: “These adverts epitomise Toyota’s total disregard for nature and the climate, by featuring enormous, highly polluting vehicles driving at speed through rivers and wild grasslands.”Wignall said there was a disconnect between the way SUVs were advertised – with campaigns often depicting them in rugged environments – and the reality of where they were largely driven. Research has shown that three-quarters of new SUVs in the UK are registered to people in urban areas. “It’s a cynical use of nature to promote something incredibly nature-damaging.”She said: “This ruling is a good moment to think about the limitations of what the regulator can do,” noting that the body relied on civil society to monitor ads for potential harm. “The ASA can only act on adverts that are environmentally damaging through breaches of advertising codes … But the harms caused by high-carbon advertising go much deeper than that.“Advertising for SUVs is pushing up demand for massive gas-guzzling, highly polluting cars in urban environments, just when we want streets that are safer and cleaner and an [accessible] low carbon transport system,” Wignall said, adding that the situation was similar for flights, meat and dairy.She called for the government to “stop high-carbon advertising at source” with a tobacco-style ban. “Similarly, climate breakdown is increasingly damaging health in the UK, as well as obviously across the world where impacts are felt more severely.”Toyota defended the Hilux campaign by arguing that the vehicle was designed for the toughest environments, with those working in industries including farming and forestry having a genuine need for off-road vehicles. It did not depict any such workers in the commercial, but it said it should not have to.In 2021 the regulator announced plans for a series of investigations into environmental advertising claims and practices. In a submission to the House of Lords that year, the ASA noted that it received few complaints related to social responsibility, describing it as “an area that we believe will require greater regulatory scrutiny in future”.skip past newsletter promotionSign up to Business TodayGet set for the working day – we'll point you to all the business news and analysis you need every morningPrivacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.after newsletter promotionThe ASA has previously issued a draft ruling banning adverts for a Land Rover Defender off-roader in 2021 on social responsibility grounds, before overturning it.A Toyota spokesperson said: “Toyota does not condone behaviour that is harmful to the environment. In fact, over the course of the past three decades, not only has Toyota been one of the leaders in the automotive field in terms of carbon emissions reduction across its vehicle offering, it has shared hundreds of royalty-free licences, allowing others to use its electrification technology.“As part of its wide range of global vehicle offerings, Toyota caters for customers who require a mobility option for reliable use in the harshest of terrains – those people who operate in off-road and remote settings.”The spokesperson said footage in the advert had been shot on private land abroad, a non-UK location, with permission and “in a non-ecologically sensitive environment”, adding that the poster ad used computer-generated imagery and so had “no environmental impact”.While the definition of an SUV varies, the vehicles have surged in popularity in recent years in the UK to account for almost a third of vehicles sold. In Europe, the share of SUVs in new car registrations hit a record 51% this year.The effect of rising sales of SUVs, and the fact they tend to be heavier than the traditional models previously bought, means the average conventional-engined car bought in 2023 has higher carbon emissions than its 2013 equivalent, according to the climate campaign organisation Possible.

At the Portrait Gallery: ‘Forces of Nature,’ for good and ill

National Portrait Gallery show features subjects who have helped advance — and, in some instances, resisted — environmental stewardship.

The term for a likeness that captures a person in her or his defining home or workplace is “environmental portrait.” There are many of those in the National Portrait Gallery’s “Forces of Nature: Voices That Shaped Environmentalism.” But nearly as common are pictures such as the show’s oldest entry, an unknown artist’s small rendering of Henry David Thoreau, circa 1863, in which the “Walden” author looks as if he’s dressed for afternoon tea.Of course, he might have been. Thoreau’s celebrated haven in the woods was a short walk from the home of the property’s owner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the author’s close friend. “Walden” remains influential for people who seek a return to nature, but Thoreau didn’t venture nearly so far into the wilderness as other 19th- and early-20th-century Americans pictured in this survey focusing on scientists, politicians, writers, artists and others who have helped advance — and, in some instances, resisted — environmental stewardship.Carl Everton Moon’s 1909 photograph of author and naturalist John Burroughs and Sierra Club co-founder John Muir shows them together at the Grand Canyon. Underwood & Underwood’s 1903 stereoscopic photo of presidential outdoorsman Teddy Roosevelt and a group of companions (including Muir) was made at the base of a giant sequoia. Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the U.S. Forest Service, also traveled far into the West, but Pirie MacDonald’s 1909 photo of him is no wilder than that of Thoreau.The museum owns more than 2,000 artworks originally made for the cover of Time magazine, so it’s hardly a surprise that some of them are included in this show. Mathias Klarwein’s 1970 illustration splits the face of ecologist and professor Barry Commoner between full color and reversed black and white, keyed to landscape backdrops that are, respectively, utopian and catastrophic. Also made for Time are Raul Vega’s 1980 photograph of cosmologist Carl Sagan standing in the surf fully clothed, and another split image that’s not technically a portrait: “Toxic Wastes,” James Marsh’s 1985 acrylic-on-board painting in which an anonymous man’s head turns skeletal below the surface of an apparently corrosive body of water.Two other pieces of Time cover art may come as thematic surprises. Mark Hess’s 1982 painting depicts James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s first secretary of the interior, depicted in front of a stylized rendering of the United States — whose public lands he appears ready to sell off. Dixy Lee Ray, the pro-development and pro-nuclear-power governor of Washington state from 1977 to 1981, is portrayed with her head grafted onto the body of an American goldfinch (the state bird) in David Palladini’s 1977 drawing in crayon, gouache and ink. Both former officials might be classified as forces against, rather than for, nature.The inclusion of Watt and Ray isn’t really explained, but the show is not divided equally between those who would preserve the planet and those who, for whatever reason, are not concerned about that. The only other subject who might be classified as an anti-environmentalist is Freeman Dyson, a physicist who in his final years became a critic of climate-change scientists, in a Francis Bello photograph.The show does feature portraits of people who are not known — or at least not known primarily — for their environmental campaigns. Among these are Prentice H. Polk’s photo of agricultural scientist George Washington Carver; Rudy Rodriguez’s photo of Dolores Huerta, the organizer of migrant farmworkers; and an unidentified picture of American Indian Movement activists Dennis Banks and Russell Means, depicted together by an unknown photographer during the 1973 armed occupation of Wounded Knee, S.D. But each of those subjects was concerned with the state of nature, even if indirectly.Coincidentally, all of the three-dimensional likenesses are of women. Two are bronze busts of authors: Rachel Carson (“Silent Spring”) by Una Hanbury, and Mary Austin (“The Land of Little Rain”) by Ida Rauh. The third is a small 3D print: a full-body color scan of Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin, who is now overseeing a different sort of memorial: a multimedia project about environmental and climate crises, “What Is Missing?”Among the most contemporary pieces are large paintings that exemplify a trend toward less formal and more playful portraits reflected in the museum’s recent acquisitions. Evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson communes with ants, a longtime interest, in Jennie Summerall’s 2006 painting, and tropical hues and cartoonishly outlined forms characterize Hope Gangloff’s 2019 painting of Julie Packard, the executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The contrast between these approachable images and the more solemn one of Thoreau demonstrates a notable development over the last 160 years. But that change is in art, which will probably prove less significant than the changes Mother Earth is undergoing.Forces of Nature: Voices That Shaped EnvironmentalismNational Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F streets NW.

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