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Biotech Science

Scientists Map Neanderthal Genome 229

Posted by timothy
from the first-draft-means-they-can-still-send-it-back dept.
goran72 writes "In a development which could reveal the links between modern humans and their prehistoric cousins, scientists said they have mapped a first draft of the Neanderthal genome. Researchers used DNA fragments extracted from three Croatian fossils to map out more than 60 percent of the entire Neanderthal genome by sequencing three billion bases of DNA."
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Scientists Map Neanderthal Genome

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  • Wonder where the stories about trolls come from?

  • FOXP2 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chrisq (894406) on Friday February 13, 2009 @04:37AM (#26840765)
    The interesting thing is that Neanderthals has the same version of FOXP2 [iht.com] as modern humans. This makes it more likely that they had proper speech rather than just "grunting" sounds.
    • So in the remakes of cave man movies the inhabitants will speak eloquently?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cosmocain (1060326)
      Nah.

      FOXP2 is responsible for "language development" with songbirds and other animals(*), too. If your logic would be correct, birds would talk like humans - which they obviously don't. (*)

      The FOXP2 protein sequence is highly conserved. Similar FOXP2 proteins can be found in songbirds, fish, and reptiles such as alligators.

      see here [wikipedia.org]

      • by VShael (62735)

        Didn't we just get over discussing the other day how wikipedia is not a valid reference?

        • by vrmlguy (120854)

          Didn't we just get over discussing the other day how wikipedia is not a valid reference?

          Sorry, your post doesn't count, because you didn't provide any supporting references.

      • Re:FOXP2 (Score:5, Informative)

        by jw3 (99683) on Friday February 13, 2009 @06:31AM (#26841341) Homepage

        Having or not having FOXP2 is not the point. The point is that neanderthals had exactly the same allele, the same sequence of FOXP2 that we humans have. And that small changes to this sequence render humans speechless.

        In other words: having a gene for eye pigmentation does not make you blue-eyed. But having a particular version of this gene can. Some people think that this particular version of FOXP2 is necessary for correct speech development.

        j.

    • Re:FOXP2 (Score:5, Informative)

      by jw3 (99683) on Friday February 13, 2009 @06:27AM (#26841321) Homepage

      Yes, it is fascinating, but you have to take into account that FOXP2 is a transcription factor that acts when "collaborating" (dimerising) with other transcription factors (or itself) to regulate a whole range of different genes, which in turn can affect a whole range of physical (phenotypical) features (like speech development). True, people who have a mutation in FOXP2 are normal, but are not able to coordinate the movements required to speak, and this is a quite specific effect. But FOXP2 has definitely other "applications" as well - it is required for correct brain development in general, for example.

      This makes any changes (or lack of them) very hard to trace back to specific effects. The fact that neanderthals had the same "version" (allele) of this gene might be an indicator, but then -- it might just be a coincidence. Chimps are just two mutations away.

      What complicates the picture even more is the fact that not only the actual sequence of the protein matters -- also the regulatory sites around it (where other transciption factors bind and promote / inhibit the activation of FOXP2). And these tend to be variable even when they work very similarily.

      j.

    • Hmmm... Umm... heh... Cool...
      So they don't make grunting sounds like humans... Hum.

  • Ethics and cloning (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258)

    This would be a perfect test for cloning, as it would be incredibly interesting to clone these creatures and study them. We could discover their intelligence, learning capability, physical appearance, and other things that can only be guessed at through the fossil record. In the name of science, it behooves us to do such cloning (along with cloning of wooly mammoths and dingos).

    The problem would be that, like monkeys, Neanderthals are primates and would probably be the focus of animal rights groups seeking

    • What would you do? Keep them in a lab? How would you justify that?
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by BadAnalogyGuy (945258)

        What would you do? Keep them in a lab? How would you justify that?

        Public safety.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by darinfp (907671)

          "What would you do? Keep them in a lab? How would you justify that?"

          "Pubic safety"

          There, fixed that for you. You sick greedy bastard....

      • by hengist (71116)

        What would you do? Keep them in a lab? How would you justify that?

        Put them in parliament. They'd fit right in.

      • by osgeek (239988)

        Depends upon how smart they are. If they're smart enough to move about in society and take care of themselves, then I guess that you have to let them go.

        Don't assume the bad guy movie scenario if you don't have to.

    • by Chrisq (894406) on Friday February 13, 2009 @04:56AM (#26840867)

      Just because they may look structurally similar to humans, they aren't human.

      I really, really hope this is a troll; the same has been said of Jews, Black people, Irish, Native Americans and many more.

      • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday February 13, 2009 @09:42AM (#26843255) Homepage

        Just because they may look structurally similar to humans, they aren't human.

        I really, really hope this is a troll; the same has been said of Jews, Black people, Irish, Native Americans and many more.

        Yes, and the same has been said about chimpanzees and gorillas. In those cases the statement is correct. Comparing this to a comment about racism really isn't helpful. We don't really know how bright neanderthals were and we don't really know if they could reproduce with homo sapiens. If they were about as bright as us and are cross-fertile then you'd have a point. Certainly if we could not interbreed then it isn't at all unreasonable to label them a separate species.

        • by kalirion (728907)

          If they are only slightly less bright then us, then it wouldn't matter if they are a different species - they'd still deserve the same basic rights as any human, elf, or Klingon.

    • by Moraelin (679338) on Friday February 13, 2009 @06:31AM (#26841347) Journal

      It's not just about appearances. The Neanderthals:

      - used tools to make other tools. Apes do make improvised tools like sharpening sticks, but only Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens would build a stone axe to use to build a stone spear, and then keep both.

      - skinned animals and tanned the skins

      - built elaborate shelters out of wood and skins

      - used clothes (e.g., made from those skins)

      - built (crude) musical instruments. And not just as in "something that makes noise", but as in, for example, a flute which can play more than one note. So they probably had music too.

      - had a bit of work specialization, which would also mean a bit more complex a social structure, and possibly even some kind of commerce (at least as in, "I'll make you a strong spear if you give me a leg of antelope.")

      - decorated themselves with primitive jewellery and paints (basically early cosmetics)

      - had ritual burial, which would indicate some concept of afterlife or at least remorse. (You don't bother burying someone in the same position, and with his weapon, and stuff, unless you expect it to matter somehow.)

      Etc.

      And according to this research, they probably were as capable of speech as the humans, because they have the same gene.

      Oh, and another bit of trivia: they actually had a higher average brain size than Homo Sapiens. And in a smaller body, too. So if we go by the popular brain-mass/body-mass metric, they should actually be a little smarter on the average.

      So we're not talking just as in "looks like a human", but something that was definitely just as sentient and self-aware as a human. It could probably not just understand that you're experimenting on it, but understand the experiment if you bother explaining the science behind it.

      And if you think that it still makes it ok, because it's still a different species... well, then I'd say your empathy is too broken to be the same as 99% of the humans. You're different. When can we start experimenting on _you_ then?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by BadAnalogyGuy (945258)

        another bit of trivia: they actually had a higher average brain size than Homo Sapiens. And in a smaller body, too. So if we go by the popular brain-mass/body-mass metric, they should actually be a little smarter on the average.

        Tell the court, Bright Eyes, what is the second article of faith?

      • So we're not talking just as in "looks like a human", but something that was definitely just as sentient and self-aware as a human. It could probably not just understand that you're experimenting on it, but understand the experiment if you bother explaining the science behind it.

        What people seem to forget in discussions on cloning is that cloned animals/humans are born and grow up just like any child. A cloned neanderthal would have a mother and would grow up with modern humans in our current society. Witho

        • What people seem to forget in discussions on cloning is that cloned animals/humans are born and grow up just like any child. A cloned neanderthal would have a mother and would grow up with modern humans in our current society. Without knowing in advance that the kid is a Neanderthal, the average guy on the street would just think he/she looks a bit odd but have no clue that the person in front of them "isn't human".

          This really depends on whether Neandertals had the same neural wiring modern humans do. Perh

      • they should actually be a little smarter on the average.

        I imagine that was probably reason enough for us to wipe them out. Particularly if they suffered from the same social ineptitude that seems to come with additional brain power.

      • by kalirion (728907)

        I'd say your empathy is too broken to be the same as 99% of the humans. You're different. When can we start experimenting on _you_ then?

        Unfortunately he's not as different as you might think, considering the number of humans who think it's perfectly fine to spy on, imprison without due process, torture, and kill other humans as long as they are foreign nationals.

    • by meringuoid (568297) on Friday February 13, 2009 @08:22AM (#26842079)
      The problem would be that, like monkeys, Neanderthals are primates and would probably be the focus of animal rights groups seeking ways to stall the progress of science. Should appearance endow rights? Just because they may look structurally similar to humans, they aren't human.

      This is why it probably won't be done. Cloning a Neanderthal opens up an enormous can of worms. We're able to declare that it's wrong to do certain things to humans, but fine to do the same to animals, because there's a substantial gap between H. Sapiens and the nearest relatives, the chimpanzees. Even so there is serious disquiet over treating the great apes in such a manner, and even experimentation on more distant relatives attracts protest, especially if the animals in question happen to be cute.

      That gap between us and the chimpanzee - and hence the rest of the animal kingdom - exists only because all the intermediates are dead and buried. We draw a line in a conveniently empty space. Now we propose to clone a Neanderthal, and ask on which side of the line he falls. If you say he is a man, then what if we now clone H. erectus? H. heidelbergensis? A. Afarensis? Suddenly we don't have a clear-cut boundary between human and nonhuman, but a continuum of clones. Where is the line drawn, and on what grounds? You might end up defining all the hominids as human, Homo, Pan, Gorilla and Pongo together, and rule out experimentation on them all. Then what of other human rights? Votes for Neanderthals - yes? Votes for Chimps - no? A sliding scale of rights based on intellectual capability? Who administers the test?

      Our whole society is built on the unspoken, unexamined assumption that we know what is human and what is not. Cloning our ancestors in this way undermines that. Which is why I doubt it will be done any time soon.

      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        Cloning a Neanderthal opens up an enormous can of worms. Darn straight! Imagine what an embarrassment it would be when scientists manage to prove that a Neanderthal actually could have done a better job as president than G. W. Bush!
    • by guruevi (827432)

      Maybe Geico wants to fund it?

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      It would be cruel to bring into being an individual with no relatives or culture, who would be viewed as a freak by everyone else. He would be certainly be saddened by the knowledge that his species has long since gone extinct, and further saddened by the reality that the best he can aspire to career-wise is to appear in Geico commercials -- putting him on the same social level as an animated talking Gecko.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ultranova (717540)

      The problem would be that, like monkeys, Neanderthals are primates and would probably be the focus of animal rights groups seeking ways to stall the progress of science. Should appearance endow rights? Just because they may look structurally similar to humans, they aren't human.

      Actually, yes they are/were. Neanderthals are a subspecies of humans, "Neanderthal Man" as opposed to "Wise Wise Man", that being us. That's the whole reason why any experimentation on them would be interesting, and also why it woul

  • 60 percent (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Shrike82 (1471633) on Friday February 13, 2009 @04:39AM (#26840775)
    Doesn't the significance depend hugely on what genes were included in the 60% that have been mapped? We're supposed to share 50% of our DNA with fruit [thingsyoud...toknow.com], 60% with fruit flies and 98% with chimps, so this incomplete map might tell us absolutely nothing, except that Neanderthal man is closely related to bananas and chimps, and that they were actually overgrown fruit flies.
    • Re:60 percent (Score:5, Informative)

      by daniorerio (1070048) on Friday February 13, 2009 @06:10AM (#26841239)
      Actually we share 60% of our genes, not DNA with fruitflies, same for chimps. Which means that for 60% of the genes in our genome you can find a similar gene in fruitflies, although the structure of that particular gene has changed in fruitflies and humans independently over time.

      Since neanderthals are much more related to humans one would expect the number of gene orthologs between humans and neanderthals to be between 98% and 100%. All the genes they mapped will probably genes that humans also have, the interesting bits may come from differences in those genes between the two species. And of course the genes that humans have and naederthals not (or vice versa) but my guess is they haven't mapped those yet. It's easier to map a gene if you know what you're looking for (human ortholog).
      • It took 2 billion years of evolution for eukaroyates- cells with complicated internal substructures- to evolve. Another billion for multi-cellular chemical signaling. That was 3/4ths of our evolutionary history. So most multicellular creature share about that much DNA.
    • by jw3 (99683)

      The term "share XX % DNA" is largely incorrect and misleading. In short, if you have mapped 60% of the genome, you can hardly underestimate the significance of this information. I will try to explain why you are on the wrong track.

      1) what is usually meant by that is that "XX % of the sequence is identical". This is not always informative, as during evolution, much of the sequence can mutate neutrally without major changes in the phenotype. Two almost identically looking worms (and also quite similar on mole

    • Awww - I was expecting a picture of George Bush!
    • by jd (1658)

      That is a deep insult to all Neanderthal-kind. They, at least, made things that people could use (and wanted to).

  • by jw3 (99683) on Friday February 13, 2009 @05:14AM (#26840945) Homepage
    Please, don't. Don't make the jokes on cloning / restoring the Neanderthal. We all know it'd turn out that some of them actually are among us, possibly taking up even prominent positions in our society. Who'd be surprised if the cloned guy looked exactly like the governor of one of US states?

    On a serious note, there are a few scientific issues at stake here.

    First let me explain this "positive selection" stuff from the article. When a mutation within a coding region of a gene takes place, it can either be a silent mutation (no change in the resulting proteins) due to the redundancy of the genetic code, or it can change the amino acid sequence of the protein and thereby possibly its function.

    Now, mutations happen at random. But depending on what kind of an effect the changes have, they might be wiped out by natural selection. For example, mutations in the "core system", the "kernel" of any living cell -- replication machinery usually are wiped out, because the machinery is so finely tuned that most mutations seriously screw it up. If the changes are largely neutral, the ratio of the mutations that have an effect divided by mutations that are silent (so called dN/dS ratio) is roughly equal to what we would expect based on random model, and we speak of neutral evolution.

    On the other hand, environmental pressure, change of times, parasite pressure or many other things can lead to an accelerated rate of evolution -- measured by the fraction nonsynonymous mutations / silent mutations. Thus, one can detect whether a species, gene or genome was subjected to a specific pressure. And if we look at the whole genome, we can tell a lot about what this pressure was. And of course, it works both ways -- we can tell a lot about what the pressure was that shaped us, humans.

    * of course, learn more about neanderthals -- who were they, did they mix with humans (current analyses say no, but who knows what one can find in the whole genome). Were they human at all? Did they really talk? What kind of culture did they have?

    * by learning about divergence between neanderthals and homo sapiens, answer the fundamental questions of biology -- who are we? what makes us different from animals? What made us spread and neanderthals disappear?

    * analysis of genome instead of single genes takes the whole thing up one level.

    * tracing back evolution (in general, it is not only about human evolution) -- not by comparing sequences of organisms that live nowadays, but really going back in time. Among others, this will let us test the tools that we routinely use for phylogenetic analysis (that is, tracing back the evolution).

    Regards,

    j. (who currently works on genome evolution in bacteria)

    • by dargaud (518470)
      In this discourse of tracing back evolution and the cladistic theory, there's one thing I find missing: what about hybrids ? When you have two species that mix to form a new one as an hybrid, like is likely to have happened to many arthropods with larval stages, how do you trace anything back ? An unknown amount of genes got dropped in one single generation. You can't even place the result on a clade [wikipedia.org]... Why is this issue ignored?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jw3 (99683)

        Of course it isn't ignored. It's a whole field of research. And yes, there are plenty of tools, some of them quite old (and most of them requiring maths).

        Question whether there was some degree of genetic exchange between Neanderthals and humans have been already asked decades ago -- and most probably, already answered. The answer is based on the sequences that have already been obtained and it is a "no".

        j.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Raffaello (230287)

          Some of the world's leading authorities on Neanderthals disagree with your "no."

          In particular, they point to the Lagar Velho skeleton [wustl.edu].

          "the analysis has revealed that the child exhibits distinctive characteristics of both contemporaneous European early modern humans and preceding Neandertals. It therefore provides evidence of previous admixture between Neandertals and early modern humans in southwestern Europe."

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      If the movie Encino Man [imdb.com] taught me nothing else, it was that bringing back a cavemen can only result in hilarity. And the guys who brought him back would finally get respect from the popular kids too.
    • by kabocox (199019)

      * of course, learn more about neanderthals -- who were they, did they mix with humans (current analyses say no, but who knows what one can find in the whole genome). Were they human at all? Did they really talk? What kind of culture did they have?

      * by learning about divergence between neanderthals and homo sapiens, answer the fundamental questions of biology -- who are we? what makes us different from animals? What made us spread and neanderthals disappear?

      * analysis of genome instead of single genes takes

  • Neanderthals Neanderthals Neanderthals Neanderthals Neanderthals Neanderthals

    Dance Monkey Boy!

  • by R.D.Olivaw (826349) on Friday February 13, 2009 @05:34AM (#26841053)
    Nice, when will it be available for TomTom?
  • by olman (127310) on Friday February 13, 2009 @05:51AM (#26841143)

    I wonder what IDers claim neanderthals are supposed to be. Beta versions?

    • Serious question? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday February 13, 2009 @05:56AM (#26841165)

      The serious answer is that they believe that the bone fragments are either human in origin or mocked up from bones of existing apes.

      There is no Neanderthal species for ID proponents. The answer is either they are human or they never really existed and the evolutionists are involved in a vast conspiracy to validate their own beliefs by creating these "pre-human" humanoids.

      • by olman (127310)

        Not really a serious question, but since we're at it; I do not really see a problem for anyone supposing deity-of-your-preference created universe and life and so on: Exactly like it is, evolving, perfecting (to it's niche) .. After all the big book says something about free will and such. What are fundies to presume how omnipotent entity sees "free will"? Quite possibly for universe-as-a-reference-frame consciousness would see biosphere as an entity and so forth. Or, even more likely, galaxies would form a

      • by kalirion (728907)

        Oh, I'm sure Neanderthal's are just descendants of Lilith.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      They found out that Piltdown Man was a fake so therefore all the others must be fake too.

      No, seriously...

    • I wonder what IDers claim neanderthals are supposed to be. Beta versions?

      All hominid fossils are either humans, or apes. Never anything intermediate between the two. Which is which, well... that depends who you ask. [talkorigins.org]

    • When dealing with Creationists (which IDers are really), remember that there are two groups:

      1. Young Earth Creationists. These folks think that the world is about 6,000 years old. Any fossils found, they claim, don't come from creatures but were placed there by God to test us. If you don't believe the evidence in front of you, then you've passed the test. Personally, I would hope that, any God there might be wouldn't be so messed up as to give us intelligence, and then place evidence in front of us that

    • I wonder what IDers claim neanderthals are supposed to be.

      Sick humans.
      "That's not a different species, it's an old man with a bone disease."

      That's what they were saying about homo florensis.

  • "Why they died out is a matter of furious debate, because they co-existed alongside modern man."

    Thing is.

    Hasn't the author noticed that "co-existing alongside modern man" is not good for one's health?

    Perhaps the sentence should have read:

    "Why they died out is a matter of furious debate, although the probable reason is that they co-existed alongside modern man, which is a species known to be (a) warlike, (b) greedy, (c) bloodthirsty, and (d) in general dangerous to the health of other species, most of which it has eliminated from the face of the earth.

    • by ErikZ (55491) *

      Feh. Their chicks were ugly and they kept on taking our food out of the fridge without replacing it.

      They had to die.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Well, regarding point d, be fair: the biggest cause of extinction occurred at the Permian-Triassic boundary and still hasn't been identified.

      And there is an argument that a lot of the domesticated species, such as corn or dogs, have evolved over the last 20,000 years or so to form a symbiotic system with humans: we protect them for a while, give them ideal conditions, and make sure they reproduce, and in return we get food. So humans aren't too dangerous to be around if you're a species humans can make good

      • Which is why I think the replacement hypothesis is much more reasonable. Humans had a slightly better average reproductive rate than Neandertals, enough that human populations in Eurasia exploded, marginalizing Neandertals, forcing them to the edges (and beyond) of their old stomping grounds, only increasing the mortality rate. Eventually, the populations simply disappeared, until the last groups, apparently in southern Spain and Gibraltar, were too small in number to sustain the species.

    • Extermination by Cro-Magnon invaders is an attractive idea; it certainly fits with what we see in about every other ecosystem when humans move into it. The problem with that is that in some areas, Neanderthals coexisted alongside modern man for about twenty thousand years. That's way too long; when modern man exterminates a species, he does it fast. If our ancestors considered Neanderthals monsters and slew them wherever they found them, then they should have vanished almost overnight.
    • Ray, it's a surprise to see you commenting on a non-RIAA story (despite all evidence to the contrary, RIAA execs & lawyers are not Neandertals).

      At any rate, one thing I've read from a couple sources is that Neandertals likely had a much higher metabolic rate than modern humans, and thus were outcompeted for food. One figure I read (in Nat Geo, I think) was that Neandertals would have needed around 7k calories a day, while moder humans require around 2k calories.

      This, coupled with a less diverse food
      • Ray, it's a surprise to see you commenting on a non-RIAA story (despite all evidence to the contrary, RIAA execs & lawyers are not Neandertals).

        :)

        Despite all evidence to the contrary, I did, and do, have a life outside of fighting with the RIAA subhumans. In fact, I was for the first half of my college career, an anthropology major, and prior to that attended the Bronx High School of Science. (One of my only nerd or geek credentials.)

        Based upon all I learned in anthropology, I concur that the RIAA lawyers are not Neanderthals. I believe that the RIAA lawyers are NOT descended from a common ancestor at all, but are an alien form of being which probably came from outer space. I am uncertain as to whether they can be characterized as a "life" form or not, since their blood is cold.

        At any rate, one thing I've read from a couple sources is that Neandertals likely had a much higher metabolic rate than modern humans, and thus were outcompeted for food. One figure I read (in Nat Geo, I think) was that Neandertals would have needed around 7k calories a day, while moder humans require around 2k calories. This, coupled with a less diverse food supply for Neandertals, meant that modern humans were much better at surviving and reproducing during times of scarcity, like the ice ages. Modern humans and Neadertals competed in the same niches, and if the Neandertals were better adapted to it, they would have wiped out H. Sapiens instead.

        Thing is, h. sapiens has a remarkable track record of wiping out other species, and even members of its own species. Sometimes inadvertently by just greedily and myopically destroying the environment around them. Sometimes intentionally as for example exterminating bison, or exterminating Jews or Armenians, or sometimes just other tribes.

        I think it's a mistake to place any scorn on individuals battling for survival, like humans were doing then. Once a culture has developed that has the excess resources to care for those less capable, then you might have a point...

        If your assumption is true, that they were merely better adapted, then of course I would not place "scorn" upon them. However, human history shows that as well adapted as we are, we nevertheless -- collectively -- have a tendency to (a) kill more than we need for food, (b) consume without regard to the future, and (c) engage in senseless violence all kinds of living things.

        I do have a certain scorn for selfishness, because human beings are capable of more, and it is perhaps their most distinguishing characteristic that they are; they have the ability to love their fellow man, people they don't even know; to love and to adhere to and preserve the values of people who died long ago; to love and to look out for unborn generations they've never met and never will meet.

        Human nature has good in it, and evil in it.

        In view of the scant relevant evidence we have, there is no reason in the world for us to eliminate, as one of the possible explanations for the extinction of the Neanderthal people.... us.

        If someone who was once here is missing, we are, I am afraid, the "usual suspect".

  • If I were a billionare, I would be tempted to hire somebody to clone one. Likewise, to bring back some of the extinct mammals such as Woolly Mammoth.
    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      Would you be tempted to clone a male or a female neanderthal? I know this sounds like a minor detail, but it speaks volumes as to what your true motivation is!
  • Can't they just get a DNA sample from the nearest redneck?

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