In This Issue

May 30, 2008


• OECD/FAO Global Outlook: Food Prices Likely to Remain High 
• FAO High Level Conference to Tackle World Food Security 
• Russia and EU Strengthen Scientific Ties 
• Monsanto, Syngenta Reach Global Pact; Settle Lawsuits 

• DNA Fingerprinting Identifies Bean in Patent Dispute 
• Scientists Develop “Genetic Pesticide” to Combat Termites 
• Biotechnology Versus Sustainability: What do Students Think 
• Protein Essential for Eggshell Formation Eyed as Pesticide Target 
• New Website for Insect Control 
• KeyGene and ARS Partner for Pepper Research 

Asia and the Pacific
• Limited and Controlled Release of Perennial Rye Grass and Tall Fescue 
• ICRISAT: Science Innovation can help Overcome Soaring Food Prices 
• India Draft Plan to Establish National Biotech Regulatory Authority 
• BASF and Academia Sinica Cooperate on Gene Discovery 

• EU Parliament Calls for Gender Parity in Science 
• EFSA on the Possible Presence of Unauthorized GM in U.S. Maize 

• No Deleterious Effect of Maize Bt Protein on Non Target Arthropods 
• Scientists Discover Hidden Gene in Major Plant Virus Family 
• Direction of Plant Genome Evolution 
• Evolution of Lignin in Ancient Plants 

• International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants 
• New Book Promotes GMOs and Organic Farming 
• National Viticulture Research Conference 
• World Biodiversity Congress 
• International Soybean Conference in India 

Document Reminders
• CCSP Report on the Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture and Biodiversity 




Agricultural commodity prices will remain high over the next decade, according to a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In addition to mobilizing humanitarian aids to face the situation, the report suggested boosting agricultural productivity and rethinking of biofuel policies. The report pointed out that it is not clear whether the energy security, environmental and economic objectives of biofuel policies will be achieved with current production technologies. The growth in biofuel production, which tripled between 2000 and 2007, adds to demand for grains, oilseeds and sugar.

Other factors that contribute to sharp rise of commodity prices include high oil prices, changing diets, urbanization, economic growth and expanding populations. The recent drought in grain producing regions has contributed to low stocks. Climate change is also expected to affect crop production and supply.

FAO Director General Jacques Diouf said that coherent action is urgently needed by the international community to deal with the impact of higher prices on the hungry and poor. "It should be clear now that agriculture needs to be put back onto the development agenda.”

View for more information. For the highlights of the report, read

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Heads of State and Government as well as United Nations organizations will converge at the High- Level Conference on World Food Security to be held in Rome on June 3-5, 2008. “We hope that world leaders coming to Rome will agree on the urgent measures that are required to boost agricultural production, especially in the most affected countries, and at the same time protect the poor from being adversely affected by high food prices,” said Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf.

A key policy document prepared for the Summit notes that “high food prices represent an excellent opportunity for increased investments in agriculture by both the public and private sectors to stimulate production and productivity”. It calls for support to agricultural research that serves the needs of poor farmers.

Download the policy document at or view the FAO press release at

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A joint statement of the European Union (EU)-Russia Permanent Council and Research sealed the new scientific ties between Russia and the EU. The recently-concluded first meeting was attended by the President of the EU Council on Competitiveness, Slovenian Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology Mojca Kucler Dolinar, Russian Minister of Education and Science Andrei Fursenko, European Commissioner Janez Potocnik, responsible for research and technological development, and Pierre Legueltel of the incoming French EU Council Presidency.

Previous agreements signed in 2000 and 2003 created partnerships in key strategic areas, such as space, aeronautics, renewable energy sources and nuclear fission energy research to quality food, safety and climate change. This resulted to a number of co-funded projects in the areas of agro-bio-food and energy. With the recent meeting, a further set of joint calls for collaborative projects in the areas of health, nanotechnologies and new materials, as well as in aeronautics, nuclear fission and space research are expected to come out.

Details of the agreement can be viewed in a press release accessible at and at:

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Monsanto announced that it has granted Syngenta a global royalty-bearing license for the use of the Roundup Ready 2 Yield technology across the company’s soybean seed brands. The companies also agreed to settle all antitrust and commercial litigations, including Syngenta's antitrust action against Monsanto and infringement cases on herbicide-tolerant and insect-protected corn technologies. Monsanto was given a royalty-bearing license for the use of Syngenta’s dicamba tolerance technology. Syngenta, on the other hand, no longer has to pay royalty for the corn-borer resistance (Bt 11) trait and herbicide tolerant maize (GA21) technology. The companies will also work together to develop new herbicide-tolerant and Bt insect-protection products in corn, soybean and cotton.

With the agreement, Monsanto estimates a potential available acreage of 45  to 55 million acres in the United States for the product. Monsanto believes that Roundup Ready 2 Yield ultimately could be used on approximately 75 percent of an average of 60 to 70 million soybean acres in the U.S. Last year, Syngenta’s soybean brand represented 12 percent of total U.S. sales, while Monsanto's Asgrow and American Seeds Inc. brands together represented 27 percent.

Read the press release at

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A nine year dispute on the U.S. patent for a common yellow bean filed in 1999 has recently been settled through the use of DNA fingerprinting - an analysis of DNA fragments that identify the unique genetic makeup of an individual plant or animal. University of California Davis Professor Paul Gepts and colleagues from the University of Padova, Italy, showed that through the DNA fingerprinting technology, the yellow Enola bean introduced in the United States in 1990 is identical to a bean variety grown in Mexico.

"The analysis showed that the Enola bean was produced through direct selection of pre-existing yellow bean varieties from Mexico, most likely a bean known as "Azufrado Peruano 87," said Gepts. "In short, the Enola was not a novel variety and therefore not eligible for patent protection." This disclosure was used by the patent office to reject the Enola bean patent in 2003 and 2005 and for a final rejection of all patent claims last month.

For details, see press release at:

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Termites cause more than $1 billion in structural damage every year in the U.S. despite the wide array of available insect control techniques. Now a team of scientists from the University of Florida has found a way to combat the wood gnawing pest by targeting its very genes.

“The trend in insect control is to find methods that eliminate the problematic insect without affecting anything else in the environment,” said Michael Scharf, lead author of the study. “What could possibly be more specific than genes that are unique to the insect itself?”

Using RNA interference, a method of silencing gene expression by inserting short sequences of ribonucleic acid (RNA) that correspond to a gene essential for termite reproduction, the team has developed “genetic pesticides”. The genetic pesticide, when consumed by the insects, causes them to be cripplingly deformed after molting. This approach is much safer than the widely used neurotoxin-like insecticides. Insects tend to build resistance to toxins that affect their nervous system.

 Read the full article at

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A Sustainable Agriculture course was the playing field for a survey on biotechnology and sustainability. The course's professor, William A. Anderson of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, conducted the survey with agree or disagree options to 17 statements related to sustainable agriculture and biotechnology. The questionnaires were answered during the first and the last session of the course to help the instructor learn the students' understanding of the topics, to reveal their opinions toward the topic-related statements and to stimulate their interests in the course.

Results of the survey according to Anderson were,  "At first, students were neutral about organic farms as fully sustainable businesses, but they rejected the idea later. They discovered that organic farming, like conventional farmers, are continually striving to make their operations sustainable". He also believed that it is important to expose students to both sustainable agricultural systems and agricultural biotechnology without introducing personal biases, and students should be allowed to voice out their opinions in the evolving debate.   

The full article is available for free for 30 days following the date of this summary at After 30 days it will be available at the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education website, Go to (Click on the Year, "View Article List," and scroll down to article abstract). The press release can be viewed at

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A recent discovery on the development of fruit fly may help scientists develop new and more effective pesticides. A team of scientists, led by Ellen LeMosy, from the Medical College of Georgia identified a gene that when disrupted, results to malformed eggs. The gene is necessary for the formation of vitelline bodies, protein balls that form insect eggs’ first line of defense. These bodies also help keep the eggs from drying out.

The gene could prove a great target for pesticides, which today are largely neurotoxins, because humans don't have it. Genetic pesticides that target the expression of the gene, however, must first be studied since it is likely to affect “good” insects such as ladybugs and praying mantis that have a big appetite for other insects.

Read more at The paper published by Developmental Biology is available to subscribers at

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A do-it-yourself pest diagnostic and help website has recently been launched: the online Interactive Plant Manager. It focuses on the most common insects of New York and the Northeast United States and is a continuing effort that documents more than 175 insects and 180 plants. The website, provides easy-to-read fact sheets on range maps, photos of pests, the damage they cause, and life-cycle charts. It also includes least toxic control recommendations for the pests and provides quick links to pesticide guidelines and other resources.

This new tool, a project of the New York State Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program, based at Cornell would be very useful for landscapers, arborists, nursery growers, landscape architects and extension educators. Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, IPM area specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension on Long Island and the project manager for the new Website, hopes that land-care professionals and home gardeners will visit the website to get the right plant health information quickly.

Read the press release at: for more information..

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KeyGene Inc. and the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service signed a cooperative research and development agreement to collaborate on the characterization of pepper germplasm with enhanced flavor. The three year collaboration will be based on an existing culinary pepper project developed by Dr. John Stommel and his colleagues at the ARS Genetic Improvement of Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory. The ARS pepper program has successfully utilized diverse Capsicum germplasm resources to breed award winning pepper cultivars. KeyGene will apply its fingerprinting technology to identify the pepper accessions to develop bell pepper cultivars with improved taste characteristics.

The press release is available at

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Asia and the Pacific

An invitation to comment was released by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator of Australia for the  Victorian Department of Primary Industries application for a limited and controlled release of 500 perennial ryegrass and tall fescue lines, genetically modified for improved forage qualities. The field trial will be conducted to assess their agronomic performance and forage properties at one site in the shire of Southern Grampians, Victoria on a total area of up to 800 m2 between 2008 and 2010. Based on the prepared Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plant, the proposed release would pose negligible risk to human health and safety, or to the environment.

The Acting Regulator welcomes comments in written submissions till July 4, 2008, in order to finalize the RAMP that forms the basis to issue the license. Related documents can be downloaded at Details of the invitation can be viewed at:

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Scientific innovations in crop cultivation techniques can help poor farmers cope with soaring food prices, say experts from the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). William D. Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, in a press release enumerated the innovations that have been found in lowering food prices. These include:

  • Use of improved crop varieties and hybrids that are more fertilizer efficient, and resistant to abiotic stresses;
  • Tree-crop integration, since trees can collect additional nutrients from the soil. In addition to preventing soil erosion, trees can also provide higher-value products;
  • Gravity-fed drip irrigation, wherein water is introduced to plants drop-by-drop through a plastic tube, providing just the amount the plant needs for optimal growth;
  • Integrated pest management;
  • And cultivating sweet sorghum as a biofuel crop and as a source of animal feedstock.

Other ways include planting-basin cultivation, fertilizer microdosing and improved seed systems. Dr. Dar warned that “unless agriculture is reinvigorated and lifted to a new level of proficiency and efficiency, the world will face more hunger, more poverty, more despair, and more anger”.

Read the press release at

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India's Department of Biotechnology (DBT), a department under the Ministry of Science and Technology, announced a draft plan to set up the National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA). In addition, a draft National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill 2008 has been made available for public comment and feedback. The draft establishment plan for NBRA and draft National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill 2008 were prepared by a consultative committee of experts.

The NBRA will be set up as an independent and autonomous body to provide a single window mechanism for biosafety clearance of genetically modified products and processes. Setting up the NBRA will require the promulgation of new legislation, namely the “National Biotechnology Regulatory Act” or the NBR Act in the form of the National Biotechnology Regulatory Bill 2008 by the Parliament of India. The Department has initiated a process of seeking feedback on both the documents from various stakeholders at the central and state levels. 

Feedback may be sent to Dr SR Rao, Advisor, Department of Biotechnology (DBT) at with a copy to Dr. Vibha Ahuja of BCIL at  Copies of  the draft documents are available at and For more details about biotech developments in India contact

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BASF Plant Science and Academia Sinica, a leading research institute in Taiwan, are teaming up to develop high yielding and stress tolerant crops. The Germany-based company and the institute signed a cooperation agreement focusing on the discovery of genes that control abiotic stress resistance and beneficial agronomic traits in rice and corn. Within the scope of the cooperation, Academia Sinica will continue their work on the detailed functional analysis of genes in rice. BASF, on the other hand will evaluate genetically modified plants harboring the identified genes. The duration of the cooperation has initially been set for two years.

“Essential genes identified during the cooperation could be used to improve yield in rice and other cereal crops such as wheat, corn, and grass species, which are very much needed in order to ensure food and bioenergy security for the rapidly growing world population,” said Dr. Su-May Yu of the Institute of Molecular Biology at Academia Sinica. This is the third biotech agreement by BASF Plant Science in Asia within eight months.

View the press release at*aFCLx_bcp-GZ

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Women should now be given comparable opportunities, benefits, and privileges in their scientific professions, says a report to the European Parliament. The report authored by a member of the Danish European Parliament Britta Thomsen revealed that in the European Union (EU), female researchers are a minority, fewer women are in the scientific career ladder, and men are three times more likely than women to obtain professorships and equivalent posts.

The report which will be adopted by the EU Parliament proposed among others the call for the European Commission and Member States to introduce more transparent recruitment processes and ensure gender balance in evaluation panels, selection and other committees, as well as nominated panels and committees. In addition, legislative measures should be considered in increasing the age limit to obtain grants, and universities, research institutes and private businesses should also adopt and enforce equality strategies in their organizations and conduct gender impact evaluation in their decision-making processes.

See details of the report in the press release at

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Adventitious presence of the non-authorized genetically modified (GM) event DAS 59132-8 in maize imported from the U.S. has not been found in Europe, according to a scientific opinion released by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). EFSA conducted the study, as requested by the European Commission, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) detected low levels (less than 3 seeds per 1000 seeds) of the non-authorized GM maize in hybrid lines containing DAS 59122-7. EFSA’s GMO panel  has previously adopted an opinion on the maize event 59122 saying that, with regard to import and processing for food, feed and industrial uses, it is as safe as its non-GM counterparts.

The unauthorized GM maize and DAS 59122-7 were developed by using the same genes, Cry34Ab1 and Cry35Ab, that confer resistance against coleopteran pests and an herbicide tolerance gene as a selectable marker. Considering the low-level presence of the unauthorized 59132, as well as the similarity of the two varieties, EFSA concludes that it is unlikely that DAS 59132-8 will cause risk to human health or the environment.

Read the full report at or

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Transgenic Bt maize varieties derived from the events Bt176 and MON810 were found to have no deleterious effect on the beneficial insect predator (Stethorus punctillum). The study which investigated prey-mediated effects of two maize varieties expressing a truncated Cry1Ab protein was conducted by the group of Fernando Alvarez-Alfageme at the Centre of Biological Research in Spain. Spain is a major Bt maize growing country in Europe with more than 75,000 hectares in 2007. Bt maize was first commercially planted in the country in 1998.

The researchers studied the survival of the insect predator, their developmental time to adulthood, and fecundity when exposed to its prey, the red spider mite T. urticae, reared on Bt and non Bt maize leaves. Commercial Bt maize varieties Compa CB (Bt176) and DKC7565 (MON810) with corresponding non-transformed near isogenic varieties Brasco and Tietar were used in their experiments. The results from feeding
trials showed that neither Bt maize variety caused any negative effects on any of the parameters studied. The group reports that the predator midgut lacks specific receptors for the active Bt toxin to bind to.

The paper is available to journal subscribers at

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The virus family Potyviridae includes more than 30 percent of known plant virus species, most of which are of great agricultural significance such as the potato virus Y, turnip mosaic virus and wheat streak mosaic virus. Scientists from the Iowa State University, working with colleagues from the University College Cork in Ireland, have discovered a tiny gene present in all members of this virus family. Without this gene, the viruses are harmless.

Using a gene-finding software, the team identified a stretch of nucleotide bases that overlaps with a much larger and well characterized gene in potyviruses. They called the new gene pipo (short for pretty interesting potyvirus ORF). Alterations in the sequence of the pipo gene, while leaving the polyprotein amino acid sequence unaltered, were found to be lethal for the viruses.

The team led by Allen Miller and John Atkins are now working to determine the function of gene during infection as well as how the pipo protein is expressed from the viral genome. For this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Research Initiative (USDA-NRI) has awarded them with a $400,000 competitive grant.

For more information, visit Read the paper published by PNAS at

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The apparent lack of correlation between the genome size of an organism and its complexity has long puzzled scientists. Simple organisms, like some fungi and bacteria, could have genomes that are many times larger than more complicated ones.

 It has become clear that transposable genetic element play a role in genome size growth especially in plants. Recent studies on maize and cotton revealed that their genome sizes have significantly increased over the past few million years due to proliferation of retrotransposons, mobile genetic elements that can amplify themselves in the genome. Evidences suggest that the direction of plant genome size change is biased toward increase, albeit there must be some limit on genome size growth. Plants employ several mechanisms such as homologous recombination to remove “junk” DNA. The question remains, nonetheless, if these mechanisms really contribute in downsizing the genome.

The review paper by Hawkins et al. is available at

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Researchers from Purdue University have discovered that syringyl lignin, fundamental building blocks of cells in flowering plants, have evolved independently, yet almost identically, on a separate branch of the evolutionary tree in lycophytes; pretty much similar to how flight arose separately in bats and birds. Lycophytes are an ancient group of plant that arose around 400 million years ago. It was recently discovered that these plants also contain syringyl lignin, an important part of the plants' scaffolding and water-transport systems, which was considered to be restricted in flowering plants.

Lead researcher Clint Chapple and his colleagues studied the lycophyte Selaginella, an ornamental plant commonly known as spike moss. The discovery they made might be useful in manipulating lignin deposition in plants for biofuel production. Engineering plants that expresses syringyl lignin could allow easier breakdown of cellulose. The study may also provide insights for improving agricultural traits of important crops.

Scientists from the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) are currently sequencing the Selaginella genome.

Read the full article at The Paper published by PNAS is available at

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The International Symposium on Induced Mutations in Plants (ISIM) will be held on 12-15 August, 2008 in Vienna, Austria. The event aims to provide a venue to disseminate information on current trends in induced mutagenesis in plants. Among the topics to be discussed include: molecular genetics and biology of induced mutagenesis, new mutation techniques, induced mutations in crop breeding programmes, mutational analysis tolerance to abiotic and biotic stresses, and socio-economic impact of widespread mutant varieties. Interested parties may send completed participation forms to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

 More information at

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A husband and wife team effort to resolve the need for increased global food production, while minimizing environmental impact has been written down in a new book "Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future for Food". The authors, both agricultural experts at the University of California, Davis assert that both genetically engineered and organically grown crops can boost food production in an environmentally conscious way.

Raoul Adamchak, an organic farmer and manager of UC Davis' organic farm believes that, "While it is important that we carefully evaluate each new genetically engineered crop on a case-by-case basis to assess nutritional, ecological or social consequences, it is equally important that we not ignore the potential that this technology offers for reducing fertilizers and pesticides in the environment." His wife, Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant pathology and an expert on rice genetics added that, "Genetic engineering enables us to introduce critically important traits into crop plants -- traits such as resistance to disease and insects or tolerance for environmental stresses like flood, droughts, cold, heat and salty water and soils. It has been very difficult to develop these traits in crops through conventional breeding."

For details about the book which recounts the one year in the lives of the Ronald-Adamchak family and how they develop the criteria for the use of genetic engineering in agriculture, see press release at

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Some 200 scientists who are interested in grape cultivation, or viticulture, will gather for this intensive three-day national research forum on July 9-11, 2008 in the Studio Theatre of the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in the University of California Davis. The conference is open to public and private researchers, postdoctoral researchers, scientific staff and students. Researchers will present recent findings in the areas of grapevine breeding, diseases, evaluation of plant materials, genetics, pests, and viticultural practices. More information about the conference and registration is available online at

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Recognizing the importance of biological diversity, the first World Biodiversity Congress will be held on November 20-22, 2008 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The four-day event organized by the Century Foundation (India) will provide a forum for formulating and reviewing policies and programs that will result to more productive and sustainable biodiversity utilization and conservation. Among the topics in the technical sessions include: environmental biotechnology, biodiversity information management, management of land resources, and combating desertification. More information is available at

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The International Soybean Processing and Utilization Conference will be held at the Soybean Processing and Utilization Centre, Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering (CIAE) at Bhopal, India on December 10 - 14, 2008. Bhopal is regarded as the Soybean State of India. The conference will focus on the emerging technologies in soybean processing and utilization as food for nutritional enhancement and health promotion.

For additional details email Dr. S. D. Kulkarni of CIAE at or

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Document Reminders

A new report on the Effect of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources and Biodiversity in the United States was released recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). The report, written by 38 authors from universities, national laboratories, non-governmental organizations and federal service is one of the most extensive examinations of climate impacts on U.S. Ecosystems. "The report provides practical information that will help land owners and resource managers make better decisions to address the risks of climate change," said Agriculture Chief Economist Joe Glauber. 

Details of the findings can be viewed in the press release at!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB/.cmd/ad/.ar/sa.retrievecontent/.c/6_2_1UH/.ce/7_2_5JM/.p/5_2_4TQ/.d/1/_th/J_2_9D/_

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