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Science Policy Around the Web – July 25, 2014

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By: Jennifer L. Plank, Ph.D.

photo credit: Gates Foundation via photopin cc

photo credit: Gates Foundation via photopin cc

 A Call to Fight Malaria One Mosquito at a Time by Altering DNA

Two recent publications discuss the possibility of genetically engineering mosquitoes to reduce transmission of malaria to susceptible populations using CRISPR. Despite the potential positive implications of the experiments, several negative results may occur. First, completing the experiments may not be as straight-forward as anticipated. Additionally, genetically engineering an entire species may have disastrous consequences for the ecosystem. Therefore, policies will need to be implemented to address the potential negative concerns prior to beginning the large-scale experiment. (Carl Zimmer)

 

The Women’s Health Gap That Must Be Closed

An unfortunate statistic: African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer but are less likely to be diagnosed with it than white women. Two potential causes for this discrepancy is the lack of available health coverage and lack of education about breast cancer and preventative medication for many African-American women. The Affordable Care Act addresses the first concern; health coverage, including preventative coverage, is now more widely available. The second issue is harder to address. This blog post calls for action by health care providers and community groups to improve the awareness of the risks, importance of preventive medicine, and the availability of preventative medicine. (Thomas Duncan)

 

Point/Counterpoint: Sex and Basic Science. A Title IX Position

In May, Drs. Janine Clayton and Francis Collins published a comment in Nature outlining future policies that will be implemented by the NIH regarding the use of both sexes in basic research studies, including model animals and cell lines. Here, a point/counterpoint has been published to address the pros and cons of such a policy. (Kathryn Sandberg, Joseph G. Verbalis, Gina L.C. Yosten, and Willis K. Samson)

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July 25, 2014 at 6:00 am

Science Policy Around the Web – July 18, 2014

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By: Amie D. Moody, Ph.D.

photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

 

Maintaining the prestige of US research and innovation

In the face of ever-increasing global competition in science and technology innovations, Congress requested that the National Academies develop a way to measure the impact of research on society in efforts to effectively prioritize Federal spending. In the pre-publication of that report, now available online, the study committee repeatedly highlights three “crucial pillars of the research system:” a strong, talented workforce, adequate and dependable (emphasis added) resources and world-class basic research in all major areas (emphasis added) of science. The committee stresses the importance of understanding the larger picture of US research, in all of its complexities, rather than using one, or a few, metrics to guide federal-level funding decisions. It is impossible to predict where the next transformative innovation will come from; therefore, limiting funding to one sector in favor of others may have unintentional consequences. Furthermore, the committee suggests that using metrics like the flow of knowledge within a scientific field and international comparison of innovation will help maximize the federal budget resources. (National Research Council)

Should research fraud be criminalized?

In a “Head to Head” article published in the British Medical Journal this week, two researchers debated the question, “Should research fraud be a crime?” Dr. Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, the chair of the Center for Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto argued for such action; Dr. Julian Crane, the director of the Wellington Asthma Research Group at the University of Otago Wellington in New Zealand, argued against criminalization. At the core of the debate is the fact that PNAS published a review of the 2,047 abstracts that have been retracted from PubMed since 1977. Of the retracted abstracts, 67.4% were due to scientific misconduct, which equates to roughly one in every 18,234 published abstracts being retracted because of misconduct. Dr. Bhutta argues that scientific misconduct can have large negative consequences on human health, citing the damage of Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent vaccine study. Yet, he states, there is little in place to deter such behavior other than dismissal from research positions and academic shaming. Arguing against criminalization, Dr. Crane believes that criminalizing research is a bad idea and would only erode trust. Supporting this point, he quoted philosopher Onora O’Neill, “criminalizing research fraud would not improve trust—it would undermine it…[scientifc fraud] is much better prevented by transparency.” (Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News)

Congress questions CDC about recent safety lapses

This has been a rough few months for the CDC. First, scientists in Atlanta moved active anthrax from a high containment facility to a less secure one, mistakenly thinking the samples were inactivated. Then, two weeks ago, the CDC accidentally shipped flu vaccines that were contaminated with avian influenza to the USDA. Most recently, samples of smallpox, dating to the 1950s, were found on the NIH campus in Bethesda; samples of the eradicated disease are only supposed to exist at the CDC in Atlanta, and a Russian research facility. Because of this recent string of incidents, Congress convened an investigative committee to see what action Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the CDC since 2009, was taking to address these matters. This is not the first time Congress has investigated the CDC’s safety measures, and Dr. Frieden acknowledged that he and the agency had failed to see “the pattern” of safety lapses that is now evident. While the immediate issues with contamination and safety are being addressed, the CDC has ceased operations in its bioterrorism and influenza laboratories, and stopped shipments from other CDC laboratories. (Jocelyn Kaiser, Jim Thompson)

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July 18, 2014 at 5:49 pm

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Science Policy Around the Web – July 11, 2014

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By: Bethanie Morrison

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

AACR Joins Coalition in Urging CMS to Adopt Tobacco Screening and Treatment Measures
Despite the undesirable health consequences of smoking, most hospitals have not placed a high priority on offering evidence-based assistance to patients who should or would like to quit smoking. Tobacco use is the leading cause of disease and early mortality in the United States and adds $150 billion in health care costs each year. In its 2015 Proposed Rule on Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) encouraged compliance with certain health care performance measures required for CMS to continue to make payments to hospitals. The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), in partnership with various public health organizations, has submitted comments to CMS suggesting that they include tobacco use screening, tobacco use treatment during hospitalization, and tobacco use management at discharge for acute- and long-term care hospitals as well as psychiatric facilities. Thus far CMS has incorporated the first two measures in its quality reporting requirements and is being encouraged by AACR and others to incorporate the third. (AACR Cancer Policy Monitor)

Seedy tale: Chinese researchers stole patented corn, U.S. prosecutors allege
U.S. prosecutors have alleged that employees of the Chinese agricultural company Dabeinong Technology Group Co. (DBN) and a subsidiary sneaked through midwestern cornfields and gathered patented corn that they attempted to smuggle out of the United States in microwave popcorn boxes. The strains had been developed by various companies including DuPont Pioneer, Monsanto, and LG Seeds. The genetic makeup of corn lines is a highly valued form of intellectual property and is carefully guarded by seed companies. This case reflects real obstacles to innovation within China, according to experts on Chinese agriculture. Court documents reveal that the FBI had been following this group for over a year, and has now arrested seven defendants on charges of stealing trade secrets. DuPont Pioneer has developed a popular corn line in China together with a Chinese company. However, the Chinese government has such tight control over its seed industry that officials have allowed the company to make only one hybrid cultivar available. This tight control has given Chinese scientists the need to investigate the genetic makeup of patented seeds grown in the United States, seeds which they could have requested from DuPont based in China. (Mara Hvistendahl)

BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programs
The science coverage on the BBC has recently been criticized for giving too much air-time to critics who oppose issues that have no contention in the science community. As a result, BBC journalists are now being made to attend workshops and courses that will help them establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found, and also how to make that clear to the public audience.  A BBC Trust progress report on this issue stated, “science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.” A “false-balance” occurs when unqualified critics, such as non-scientific heads of lobby firms, are given the same air-time as the qualified scientists. At least 200 BBC staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be offered in the near future to stop journalists giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’ (Sarah Knapton)

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July 11, 2014 at 1:38 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – July 4, 2014

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Malaria parasite alters host body order to entice mosquitoes. Building upon earlier indications that mosquitoes are more attracted to people that are infected with Plasmodium, the parasite that causes Malaria, scientists were able to identify chemical exuded by mice infected with plasmodium which attract Anopheles mosquitoes. These four chemicals are present mainly at 13-20 days post infection, which coincides with diminishing Malaria symptoms. Researchers are now determining whether these findings hold true for infected humans. The presence of these chemicals may allow for rapid detection of people who are carriers of the disease. (Geoffrey Mohan)

Ninety-nine percent of the ocean’s plastic is missing. Disappearing garbage does not typically raise alarm bells, but researchers studying how much garbage is floating in the oceans cannot account for 99% of the estimated plastic that should be in our oceans. Scientists hypothesize that the plastic, which is broken down into tiny pieces by sun and ocean exposure, are becoming fish food. Since fish are part of the food web, they worry that the plastic and toxins such as DDT, PCBs, and mercury that adsorb on the plastic may be concentrating in the fish. These chemicals could make it up the food chain and ultimately eventually land on your plate. However, the effects of fish eating plastic are not known, and neither is how much plastic is being consumed. Other “best case” possibilities for the missing plastic include digestion by microbes, washing ashore and sinking to the bottom of the oceans. Further investigation into the quantity and consequences of marine animal consumption of plastic is needed to assess the risk to the human population. (Angus Chen)

Finally, some solid science on Bigfoot. Following an open solicitation of possible Yeti/Bigfoot hairs, Scientist Bryan Sykes and his colleagues at Oxford University and the Museum of Zoology in Lausaane, Switzerland found two DNA samples matching a 40,000-year-old polar bear’s jawbone. While there was no indication of yeti DNA, researchers may have discovered a new species of bear and deduce that “the hairs are from either an unknown bear species or a hybrid of a brown bear and a polar bear.” However, the match is only based on 100bp of DNA, so these results are preliminary and need to be further validated. Since these samples were collected independently and far apart in both time and distance, Sykes believes this is not a hoax. If real, this bear species may account for some of the Bigfoot sightings in this region. (Erika Engelhaupt)

 

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July 4, 2014 at 6:00 am

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Science Policy Around the Web – June 27, 2014

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By: Tara Burke

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Oral Vaccine for Cholera Found Effective in Africa – A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine last month found that two doses of a new oral vaccine, Shanchol, provided 86 percent protection against cholera. Cholera causes diarrhea and dehydration so severe that it can kill. Shanchol is cheaper, packaged in a smaller container and is also easier to administer than the older vaccine, Dukoral. Shanchol, which costs less than $2, was developed with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Donald G. McNeil Jr.)

Researcher Charged in Major HIV Vaccine Fraud Case – Former Iowa State University laboratory manager Dong-Pyou Han had federal charges filed against him after he admitted to falsifying data. This falsification led to million of dollars in AIDS funding with hopes of a breakthrough in AIDS vaccine research. Han faked data that appeared to show promise for an experimental HIV vaccine by spiking samples of rabbit blood with human antibodies. The irregularities of Han’s research were discovered by another laboratory. He could face up to 5 years in prison for making these false statements. Iowa State has agreed to pay back the NIH nearly $500, 000, making up for the cost of Han’s salary. This case is the result of fierce competition to win scarce NIH funding and is a bellwether for desperately needed changes within the peer review funding process that, if not changed, will most likely lead to more and more desperate acts similar or worse than Han’s. (Ryan J. Foley)

U.S., U.K. debate nutrition advice – In an effort to get U.S. and U.K. citizens to eat healthier foods, government-led proposals in both countries are stirring up a lot of debate. In the U.S., The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label on food products. These labels have not been overhauled since 1993 and since then, there have been substantial changes in our understanding of nutrition. While most people agree that changes need to be made, there is little consensus on specifically which changes should be made. However, one of the main topics of discussion is how to inform consumers about added sugars which many nutritional advocates agree is extremely detrimental to the U.S. diet.  In the U.K., a 366-page report was released recommending that the population consume “free sugar” (added sugars and naturally present sugars such as honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices) that’s no more than 5% of their diet. (Jennifer Couzin-Frankel)

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June 27, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 22, 2014

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By: Jennifer Plank

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Administration Takes Steps to Aid Bees – In recent hears, the numbers of honey bees and other pollinators have drastically decreased. In order to address the issue, President Obama has assembled a “pollinator health task force” consisting of individuals from 14 different federal agencies to address the decline and to determine if pesticides played a role in the reduction. (Josh Schwartz)

U.S. Senate wants more support for science at black colleges – The Senate appropriations committee has been urging the NSF to provide more funding for research and programs at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The NSF agrees with the sentiment, but would prefer to address the issue on their own terms. A 2015 spending bill addresses the issue in 3 ways. 1- HBCUs should receive no less than 3 (out of 15) grants awards through I-Corps, 2- NSF should set aside $7.5 million for programs to attract minorities into the life sciences, and 3- the NSF should form a panel to address mechanisms to approve opportunities at HBCUs. (Jeffrey Mervis)

Report: Government warnings about antidepressants may have led to more suicide attempts – Beginning in the 2003, the government began issues warnings that children and adolescents may have increased suicidal thoughts while taking antidepressants. A recent study published in BMJ suggests that the warnings resulted in increased suicide attempts by young people because patients were afraid of seeking treatment. These findings further suggest that the warnings placed on antidepressants such as Paxil and Zoloft may have had unintended consequences. (Brady Dennis)

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June 22, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 13, 2014

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By: Bethanie Morrison

photo credit: Renée S. Suen via photopin cc

photo credit: Renée S. Suen via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Japanese Stem Cell Debacle Could Bring Down Center -The RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) may be forced to shut down in order to prevent a recurrence of research misconduct, according to a statement released from a press conference regarding this matter in Japan on June 12.  Haruko Obokata, Yoshiki Sasai, and Teruhiko Wakayama all will likely face severe disciplinary measures based both on research misconduct (Dr. Obokata) and lack of oversight (Dr. Sasai and Dr. Wakayama).  These measures may extend as high as to the Director of CDB, Masatoshi Takeichi.  This misconduct is not only the result of unreproducible results on a new method to reprogram mature cells into stem cells by Dr. Obokata, but also due to the strong desire of CDB to publish the latest stem cell method without regard for proper protocol.  These findings were the result of two RIKEN-formed committees, an investigation committee and a reform committee.  Disciplinary actions will be decided by yet a third committee.

Health Officials Call for More Fish in Diets of Children and Pregnant Women – In an update to its recommendation in 2004, the FDA is now calling for pregnant women to consume at least two servings of low-mercury seafood per week.  The upper limit of only three servings has been scrutinized by physicians who believe that the benefits gained by both the pregnant mother and her child of eating fish during pregnancy far outweigh the risks, as long as the fish is low in mercury.  High mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, and albacore tuna should still be avoided during pregnancy, nursing, and in young children.  Studies have shown that children born to women who consume fish during pregnancy have higher I.Q.s and better behavioral development.  Dr. Roger B. Newman, the director of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the Medical University of South Carolina and a member of the Perinatal Nutrition Working Group believes that the recommendations are on the low side, but they are a step in the right direction.

UK Chief Scientist Calls for Urgent Debate on Climate Change Mitigation - Sir Mark Walport, the top science advisor to the government of the U.K., recommended that the government move past the debate on whether climate change exists to discussions on what to do about it, according to his interview with The Guardian.  He would like top scientists and engineers with ideas and who can communicate well to come forward and engage the public in a debate based on evidence, not politics.  At the same time Sir Walport acknowledges that ultimately how to combat climate change is not a science decision, but a policy decision. In order to be a good policy decision, however, the evidence from scientists must be taken into account by the policy makers.  The debate must move on from the experts in climate change, who are typically asked to speak at public engagements, and onto the experts in the realm of solar panels, agriculture, or insulation.  Changing from whom the general public hears and well as with whom policy makers engage will help to drive the conversation forward.  Hopefully more solutions will be employed and more arguments ended.

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June 13, 2014 at 11:13 am

Science Policy Around the Web – June 6, 2014

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By: Kaitlyn Morabito

photo credit: phalinn via photopin cc

photo credit: phalinn via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Google Glass Enters the Operating Room –  Doctors at hospitals around the country are embracing Google Glass as a means to enhance surgery and training.  This technology allows doctors to project patient records and x-rays without having to look across the room.  Additionally, Google Glass can be used to videocast live or record surgeries for consultations with other specialists or train doctors in foreign countries.  It can also be used by emergency response crews to consult with doctors in the field.  Since Google Glass is hands free, it doesn’t pose a contamination threat.  Before Google Glass will be an operating room staples many concerns will need to be address.  This includes protecting patient privacy and preventing the dangers of multitasking and “tunnel vision” by operating doctors.  (Anahad O’Connor)

Unusual Microbe Engineered to Convert Grass to Gas – U.S. researchers have genetically modified bacteria, Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, originally found in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, to break down simple sugars into ethanol.  The goal of this research is to decrease the production and environmental cost of ethanol, which is currently manufactured from corn requiring a lot of energy and money.  Using Caldi, ethanol can be derived from cellulosic biomass such as plant leaves and stems including switch grass which can be grown anywhere.  The researcher seek to increase efficiency by 20% to make it viable and cheaper alternative.  (Robert F. Service)

Children with Autism have Elevated Levels of Steroid Hormones in the Womb – In a retrospective study, scientists in Cambridge and Denmark measured hormone levels in amniotic fluid samples from 128 males known to have autism.  These samples were from around 15-16 weeks of pregnancy, a known critical time period for early brain development.  Scientist found higher levels of all steroid hormones compared to normal controls.  This builds on previous knowledge that autistic traits are associated with higher levels of prenatal testosterone.  These finding may begin to explain why the autism rate is higher in males than in females.  Although an important step in finding in understanding autism, these findings cannot function as a prenatal screening test since there was overlap between the groups.  (Science Daily)

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June 6, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – June 1, 2014

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By: Tara Burke

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

F.D.A. Announces Stricter Rules on Tanning Beds – Stricter regulations of tanning beds were announced by the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, which require manufacturers to put a black-box warning on tanning beds. The warning must state that the beds should not be used by anyone under the age of 18. Research studies have shown that indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, by 59 percent to 75 percent. Additionally, manufacturers will have to comply with the F.D.A. that the tanning beds do not deliver too much ultraviolet radiation and that the timers and alarms intended for controlling tanning times work properly. Manufacturers will have to stop selling models that do not meet the new standards by 2015. These new regulations stopped short of banning their use by minors but the F.D.A. did not rule out one in the future. (Catherine Saint Louis)

Asian Institutions Release Genomes of 3000 Rice Lines – Since rice production is expected to increase in demand by 25% by 2030, steps have been made to increase rice production. Researchers from three institutions have released the genetic sequences of 3000 rice lines, acquired from 89 different countries, which they hope will aid in discovery of new adaptive varieties. The sequencing confirmed that there are five broad varietal groups and identified approximately 18.9 million single nucleotide polymorphisms which may be indicative of important traits. The supporters of this research hope that the genetic information will identify genes for drought, disease, and pest resistance as well as tolerance for poor soils. (Dennis Normile)

NSF bill with dire implications for social sciences moves forward – The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved legislation that recommends drastic cuts to the US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) social science funding and controversial changes to the agency’s grant-making process. The bill is slated to reduce social, behavioral, and economic sciences by 22% in fiscal year 2014 with even further reductions recommended for 2015. These provisions and others have spurred outrage and protests from the broader scientific community and ignited concern from the National Science Board. The fate for this bill remains uncertain as it is unknown whether this bill will come up for a vote before Congress adjourns for the year. Also, the bill in it’s current form is unlikely to pass in the Senate. (Jessica Morrison)

 

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June 1, 2014 at 10:41 am

Science Policy Around the Web – May 16, 2014

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By: Jennifer Plank

photo credit: torbakhopper via photopin cc

photo credit: torbakhopper via photopin cc

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

New Guidelines Reinforce Value of Anti-HIV Pills for Prevention – Recent findings suggest that an Anti-HIV pill, Truvada, can be taken to prevent HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, also called PrEP, is recommended for high risk individuals, such as homosexual men or heterosexuals in a relationship with an HIV-positive partner. However, very few high risk individuals are using PrEP and the number of new infections has not decreased. Therefore, the US Public Health Service has issued new guidelines recommending daily use by high risk individuals. Cost may be a limiting factor in Truvada use (it costs approximately $13,000/year), however, it is typically covered by insurance and assistance is available for uninsured individuals. (Jon Cohen)

Obama Administration Releases Major Climate Change ReportLast week, the Obama administration released a report detailing current and future effects of climate change. The National Climate Assessment, a collaboration of over 200 scientists, focused the affect of climate change on the United States. The NCA reported findings related to higher temperatures and increased incidence of fires, melting Alaskan glaciers and permafrost, coastline flooding, and long term agricultural problems. With this report comes renewed efforts by the Obama administration to reduce the effects of climate change. (Bryan Walsh)

Americans’ Aversion to Science Carries a High Price – Americans have many beliefs that are not founded in science including a link between vaccines and autism, the idea that taking vitamins is good for your health, fear of GMOs. Many factors, such as religion or culture, lead to these erroneous beliefs. In his opinion piece, Michael Gerson discusses the negative implications of denying science and how scientists can more adequately advocate for research. (Michael Gerson)

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May 16, 2014 at 3:20 pm

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