Saturday, 29 September 2012

Streptomyces hyderabadensis, Streptomyces osmaniensis produce bio-plastic, alternative to conventional or synthetic plastics

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 28: Osmania University may have been in the news for
all the wrong reasons, but city researchers have found new types of
bacteria living on the university campus that could solve the major
environmental challenge thrown up by synthetic plastics. The discovery
gains significance as the world debates on the need for biosafety, at
conference of the UN Convention of Biodiversity scheduled to begin
here on October 1.

The two bacterial species named after Hyderabad and Osmania University
produce natural or bio-plastic, an alternative to synthetic or
conventional plastic. These bacteria are also capable of degrading the
bio-plastic they produce. They can be cultured on a largescale to meet
the ever-growing demand of the plastic industry on one hand, and
protect environment on the other through reduced used of synthetic
plastic material.

Researchers from the microbiology lab of the Botany Department, OU,
collected soil samples from the university campus and analysed them
for presence of any novel bacterial species. They found two novel
species of Streptomyces, which they named Streptomyces hyderabadensis
and Streptomyces osmaniansis.

Dr Shaik Mahmood, head of the department of botany, Nizam College, OU,
told this correspondent that both the bacterial species contain
bio-plastic up to 70 per cent of their body mass. Dr Mahmood led the
research team comprising TVK Reddy, Laskaris Paris, Y Harish Kumar
Reddy, EMH Wellington, M Mohammed Idris and Slawomir Ciesielski.

“Our results showed that both the bacterial species discovered from
Osmania University produce polyhydroxy alkanoides, a type of
bio-plastic, and store them in their bodies. When they are under
stress like non-availability of food, they convert it into food and
survive. We can tap this bio-plastic and promote it as alternative to
conventional plastic, which is harmful to environment,” Dr Mahmood said.

The plastic produced by S. hyderabadensis and S. osmaniansis is
biodegradable, environment-friendly and cost effective. Dr Mahmood
said the bacteria had been sent to American Type Culture Collection
and they are now available for the world scientists to do further
research.

The team also discovered four more new bacterial species from the
university campus and is now analyzing them.

Curcumin is now soluble: Haldi or turmeric has received a shot in the arm from the University of Hyderabad to become a more potent drug against cancers and Alzheimer’s disease

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 28: Haldi or turmeric has received a shot in the arm
from the University of Hyderabad to become a more potent drug against
cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.

Turmeric contains a unique chemical or bioactive agent called
curcumin. Unfortunately, curcumin has certain limitations, which
inhibit its efficacy in the development of drugs to fight cancer and
Alzheimer’s disease. A major limitation is its inability to dissolve
in water and survive in biological medium. Researchers from the
University of Hyderabad have now made curcumin a stronger drug agent
by removing its natural inhibitory factors. This will help in
preparation of solid dose curcumin drugs to cancer and Alzheimer’s
disease patients.

Prof Ashwini Nangia and his team from the School of Chemistry,
University of Hyderabad, developed a method to address the poor
solubility of curcumin, a potential drug candidate with diverse
pharmacological activity.

“Curcumin acts as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer and cure
for Alzheimer’s disease, but its potential as a drug is limited by
poor aqueous (water) solubility, low bioavailability, and short half
life in the biological medium. In drug development, the efficacy of
the active component must be enhanced by modifying it into a form that
has higher bioavailability and stability but without changing the
basic skeleton of the drug molecule,” Prof Ashwini told this
correspondent.

Prof. Nangia now plans to study the biological activity and cell
specificity of soluble curcumin co-crystals and eutectics for
anticancer therapy in collaboration with Life Science Incubator at IKP
Knowledge Park, Genome Valley in the city. The ecosystem of
biotech-pharma education, research, and innovation cluster in
Hyderabad is a key driver to this interdisciplinary program.

Prof Nangia’s team comprised Rajesh Goud, K Suresh, Palash Sanphui and
UB Rao Khandavilli. They prepared solid forms comprising curcumin that
is uniformly mixed with safe additives resulting in so-called eutectic
compositions.

“The safe additives effectively enhance the solubility of curcumin by
virtue of their hydrophilic (water loving) nature. The crystalline
eutectic compositions showed no signs of transformation or degradation
at ambient conditions,” he said.

The latest results on curcumin eutectics will appear in the
International Journal of Pharmaceutics. Preliminary analysis of the
pharmacological properties of cocrystals and eutectics suggest that
they are more soluble than curcumin and could be suitable for solid
dose oral formulation.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Dr Ramaswamy Govindan: In a major study that could help treat lung cancer at the genetic level, an Indian origin doctor in the USA has for the first time landscaped the genome of cancer cells in both smokers and non-smokers. Smokers showed a higher number of mutations than people, who never smoke in their life

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 27: In a major study that could help treat lung cancer
at the genetic level, an Indian origin doctor in the USA has for the
first time landscaped the genome of cancer cells in both smokers and
non-smokers. Smokers showed a higher number of mutations than people,
who never smoke in their life.

Dr Ramaswamy Govindan, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at
Washington University School of Medicine, USA, and his team have found
several new gene alterations in cancer patients, not previously
reported.

“The number of mutations in never smokers with lung cancer is
significantly lower than in smokers. By looking at the entire genome
of tumour specimens, we found at least one critical gene mutation that
can be treated in every one of our never smokers,” Dr Ramaswamy told
this correspondent.

He said with new tools and technologies, the team will now study the
tumor genomic landscape to identify new targets for treatment of
cancer. “This is going to revolutionize our treatment”.

Cancer is the disease where by genes inside the cells get altered
(mutated). There are trillions and trillions of normal cells in the
body. Each and every cell has about 2,00,000 genes. These genes get
altered more if one smoker or drinks or eat poor and unhealthy diet.

About 10 per cent of patients with lung cancer in the US and Europe do
not report any history of smoking. The number of non- smokers with
lung cancer is high in certain parts of Asia including India.

Lung cancer in never smokers for some peculiar reasons affects women
more than men. “We did a study of looking at all these genes in cancer
specimens from patients with lung cancer. We compared the full
complement of Genomes not only from the patients’ tumour cells but
also from their normal cells to figure out how many and what
genes were uniquely altered in lung cancer specimens,” he added.

The African connection to Hyderabad biodiversity: Baobab, Spathodea and their mystical attraction

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 27: Hyderabad does not just boast of its famous
localities, African Cavalry (AC) Guards and Habsiguda (named after
Abyssinia or Ethiopia), but it has also enriched its biodiversity
thanks to its “African connection”.

The Nizams had employed soldiers and servants from Africa and some of
them had brought “flora mementos” with them to Hyderabad. The
best-known flora or tree memento is the baobab tree, native of
Madagascar. Popularly known as the elephant tree or Hati ka jhar, the
baobab is now an endangered species in Andhra Pradesh. Outside
Hyderabad, the tree is revered as “kalpavrisha” in parts of the State.

Two of these kalpavrisha were felled down during four-laning of
Vijayawada-Hyderabad national highway and laying of outer ring road in
Hyderabad. Now only four baobab trees remain in the state, one of them
in Golconda fort. Baobab is scientifically called Adansonia digitata
and many people believe in Andhra Pradesh believe it has magical or
mystical powers. These trees are more than 150 years old.

Another African tree quite popular for its lovely reddish-orange
flowers is Spathodea campanulata or African tulip tree. Though it is
an alien invasive species, it failed to spread vast in the State. Its
existence is also threatened. A number of bird species depend on this
African tree.

Says Dr Shaik Mahmood, head of the department of botany, Nizam
College, Osmania University, “these exotic plant species have made
Hyderabad their home town. They are of great environmental and
taxonomical importance and add to the local biodiversity. We need to
protect the remaining endangered trees from extinction”.

Besides those from Africa, the gardens of Hyderabad have
wholeheartedly welcomed beautiful plants and trees from the Americas
and Australia. They have now become part of the city’s flora.
Jacaranda mimosifolia with blue bell-shaped flowers is a garden beauty
in the city. It is a native of South America and has powerful
antimicrobial activity, killing bacteria and other microscopic
parasites in the body.

The famous non-African exotic plant that has been localized with
Indian names, “Gul Abbas” and “Chandrakantha”, is a geneticist’s
favourite. Popularly known in English as four O’ clock plant,
Mirabilis jalapa is a garden delight as the colours of its flowers
change without any explicit reason. It was incidentally this plant, a
native of Mexico that has given scientists an insight into mutations
or sudden genetic changes in plants and animals.

South American Albizia samak and Australian Schefflera actinophylla
have also made Hyderabad their native city.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Novel Coronavirus: Sars-like virus threat looms large over Haj 2012 season

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  The shadow of novel Coronavirus is likely to haunt
the annual Haj season, which begins in the next two weeks. India sends
the third largest contingent of Haj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia with
about 1.70 lakh Indians performing Haj.

The novel Coronavirus, detected early this week in two Arab nationals,
has already claimed one life. The other patient is receiving treatment
in a hospital in London. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has
suggested precautions during this Haj season, but felt a travel
advisory is not necessary at this stage.

The Haj Committee of India, which processes about 1.30 lakh Haj
pilgrims from the country, is yet to come out with an official
statement on the novel Coronavirus and the likely health problems it
creates for pilgrims. Haj is the world’s largest peaceful annual
gathering of humanity with nearly three million people rubbing
shoulders and performing prayers in the open grounds. Any outbreak of
a disease may lead to a pandemic as people from more than 100
countries participate in the Haj.

Though Coronaviruses are not new, the strain that was found in two
Arab nationals is of a novel type. It mimics Severe Acute Respiratory
Syndrome (SARS) and common cold, and is capable of spreading from
person to person through cough. Viruses that spread through nasal
route pose a major threat to public health during massive
congregations like the Haj.

Saudi guidelines make it mandatory for all intending pilgrims to be
vaccinated against novel human influenza and other major health issues
including meningitis and polio. But city doctors express doubt whether
the vaccine against novel H1N1 will give protection. Says Dr Aftab
Ahmed, expert in internal medicine, “Since novel Coronavirus is a new
strain, we do not know how it behaves. But the best way to prevent its
spread is through simple precautions like proper washing of hands and
following of cough etiquette. Use of disposable towels and kerchiefs
while coughing or sneezing will be great help”.

The Saudi health ministry has asked people to wash hands, follow
personal hygiene and wear masks during the Haj and Umrah. Infectious
diseases expert Dr Suneetha Narreddy points out that viruses evolve
constantly and the best way of protecting oneself from novel strains
like Coronavirus is to isolate people with the symptoms. “Those with
flu symptoms better stay at home and not travel till their health
improves,” she says adding that it is too early to issue a general
warning.

According to WHO, Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which
includes viruses that cause the common cold and SARS. Given that this
is a novel Coronavirus, WHO is currently in the process of obtaining
further information to determine the public health implications of
these two confirmed cases.

Biodiversity of Deccan Plateau: Adding to the bio index of the Deccan plateau ahead of the United Nations conference on biological diversity Cop-11 a team of researchers has rediscovered a tiny nematode worm 50 years after it was discovered in the belly of a fish caught from the Hussainsagar Lake in the city

DC Correspondent
Hyderabad, Sept 24: Adding to the bio index of the Deccan plateau
ahead of the United Nations conference on biological diversity
scheduled to start next week, a team of researchers has rediscovered a
tiny nematode worm 50 years after it was discovered in the belly of a
fish caught from the Hussainsagar Lake in the city.

The nematode worm belonging to the genus Philometra was named after
Hyderabad when it was discovered in 1963 by Dr Suraiya Rasheed, who is
now the director of the Laboratory of Viral Oncology and AIDS
Research, University of South California, USA. After nearly half a
century, researchers from Nanded have rediscovered the nematode,
scientifically called Philometra hyderabadensis.

The rediscovery of the nematode, which lives in fresh water fishes, is
taxonomically significant, as it will provide clues to the parasitic
diseases in commercially important fish varieties. Incidentally, so
far only two specimens of Philometra hyderabadensis have been
documented. The specimen found in 1963 is preserved in the Natural
History Museum, London.

Both the specimens scientifically studied so far are female. The male
specimen of Philometra hyderabadensis is not known. Researchers,
particularly taxonomists, are now searching for the male of this
species.

Dr SP Chavan of the department of zoology, Swami Ramanand Theerth
Marathwada University, was part of the team that had rediscovered the
worm. Dr F Moravec of the Biology Centre of the Academy of Sciences of
the Czech Republic was the other team member. They found the specimen
from Purna River and Yeldari reservoir in Parbhani district of
Maharashtra.

Dr Chavan told this correspondent that identification of the nematode
50 years after its discovery would help scientists in the better
understanding of parasites of fresh water fishes and other aquatic
animals. “This is a rare species that lives in the small intestines of
catfish and other fish varieties. Many researchers have mistaken it
for a different animal,” he said.

The female worm is 23 mm in length and 0.03 mm in width. Body tapers
slightly at
both ends. The skin or cuticle is smooth. “Light and scanning electron
microscopical examination made it possible to study in detail the
morphology of this little-known species,” he said adding that the
present finding represents the second documented record of this
species, 50 years after its original description.

In a major cause of health concern, researchers from Vijayawada have found that a number of powerful antibiotics had developed high resistance in the city thanks to indiscriminate prescription of medicines in government and private hospitals. Resistance to antibiotics makes simple disease-causing germs into superbugs, fighting which is quite difficult

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad:  In a major cause of health concern, researchers
from Vijayawada have found that a number of powerful antibiotics had
developed high resistance in the city thanks to indiscriminate
prescription of medicines in government and private hospitals.
Resistance to antibiotics makes simple disease-causing germs into
superbugs, fighting which is quite difficult.

Antibiotics like antibacterial drug amikacin are the only medicine
showing sensitivity pattern to disease-causing germs in Vijayawada.
Even its effectiveness is around 67 per cent. A majority of
antibiotics including cotrimoxazole, nalidixic acid, amoxicillin,
gentamycin and norflaxacin have acquired a resistance rate ranging
between 55.1 per cent and 80.6 per cent. In other words it means that
only 20 to 45 per cent of the drug works, throwing the prescribed
antibiotic regime to haywire.

The department of biotechnology attached to the School of Life
Sciences, Montessori Mahila Kalasala, Vijayawada, conducted the
research study. The research team included DK Bharadwaj, PK
Tripuraribhatla, M Khagga, VG Thadepalli and SB Peripi.

The researchers collected data on antibiotic usage and susceptibility
patterns from government and private hospitals. Analysis of the data
showed that antipyretics (fever) and analgesics (painkillers) topped
the prescription list forming 20.6 per cent of all prescribed
medicines in Vijayawada city. They were followed by nutrition and
metabolism products forming 19 per cent of prescribed drugs.
Gastrointestinal disorder-related drugs were 18.5 per cent and
antibiotics 16.8 per cent.

“Among the antibiotics, aminoglycosides (amikacin), quinolones
(ofloxacin, ciprofloxacin), tetracyclines (doxycycline), penicillin
(ampicillin) and sulphonamides (co-trimoxazole) were the most commonly
prescribed drugs for antibiotic therapy,” the researchers said in
their study.

About 46 per cent of the culture laboratory reports were positive for
pathogens. They included Escherichia coli (36 per cent), Klebsiella
pneumoniae (16 per cent), Staphylococcus aureus (29 per cent),
Enterococcus faecalis (9 per cent) and Pseudomonas
aeruginosa (10 per cent). These organisms have developed resistance to
antibiotics.

“Our results suggest that indiscriminate prescription and consumption of new
broad-spectrum antibiotics against sensitive organisms results in the
development of antimicrobial resistance,” they said emphasing the urgency to curb
excessive use of antibiotics in local hospitals to control the trend of increasing
antimicrobial resistance to drugs.

With the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine losing its efficacy against the deadly tuberculosis, Indian scientists now plan to give it a boost by transferring some genes from a soil-living bacterium

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: With the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine
losing its efficacy against the deadly tuberculosis, Indian scientists
now plan to give it a boost by transferring some genes from a
soil-living bacterium.

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium
tuberculosis and its ancestor, Mycobacterium indicus pranii (MIP) that
feeds on decaying material, will help scientists to tame extra drug
resistant TB. MIP, whose genome was sequenced recently, is seen as a
potential harmless bacterium whose genes can be transferred to BCG
strain to deal a deadly blow to tuberculosis, on one hand and leprosy
on the other.

“Several new antigenic proteins that we identified in MIP are
incidentally absent from vaccine strain BCG but present in both
Mycobacterium leprae (leprosy germ) and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. An
exciting idea would be to transfer these genes to BCG by using
biotechnology and to test the resulting vaccine strain against both TB
and leprosy. If it works, that will be massive plus for public health
and disease control in India,” said Prof Anil K Tyagi of the
department of biochemistry, University of Delhi South Campus.

Prof Anil Tyagi and other Indian scientists studied MIP in detail for
the first time. They got several vital biological clues, which can be
used to tame tuberculosis and leprosy, even through a single vaccine.
BCG vaccine, though not intended for leprosy, offers some protection
against the disease.

“We urgently need new drugs, new vaccines and new strategies to
overcome these challenges to public health. The information gained by
our work will thus be used to develop new and effective treatment
involving MIP,” Prof Anil Tyagi added.

MIP is an extremely useful, non-pathogenic organism that demonstrated
protective benefits in different diseases like leprosy, TB, TB-HIV and
different types of cancer in different clinical trials. Moreover, the
application of MIP provided better clinical outcomes and reduced the
time of therapy even in multi drug resistant TB, a particularly
dangerous form of TB where treatment may last for more than two years.

Prof Anil Tyagi said, “We now have an understanding for the first time
as to how mycobacteria acquire specific genes and lose some to attain
their host adapted forms causing infections in a variety of hosts
including humans and animals. The understanding as to what genes were
exchanged to adapt a pathogenic lifestyle is very critical. A step
forward will be to study these genes in detail as they can be
potential new drug targets”.

With anthrax emerging as the favourite biological warfare weapon, a team of researchers from Guntur district has found that the deadly bacterium can be tackled by attacking its genetic material and protein molecules

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: With anthrax emerging as the favourite biological
warfare weapon, a team of researchers from Guntur district has found
that the deadly bacterium can be tackled by attacking its genetic
material and protein molecules.

Researchers from the department of biotechnology, Acharya Nagarjuna
University (ANU), have adapted a novel strategy to beat anthrax, which
is fast developing resistance to powerful antibiotics. They discovered
270 non-human and non-redundant homologous genes and 103 essential
genes in the anthrax bacterium, Bacillus anthracis.

These genes can be targeted to kill the bacterium and treat anthrax in
case of an epidemic, whether natural or triggered by bioterrorism or
biological war. Anthrax is a disease of animals and man and is
transmitted through spores. It cannot spread from person to person.
The spores can enter the skin through cuts, lungs through breathing
and digestive tract through contaminated food. Once the spores enter
the body they grow into the adult bacterium causing anthrax. If not
treated in time, it could cause severe health problems including even
death.

Anthrax can be treated through antibiotics, but of late, it has
developed resistance. Since the ANU team has identified the target
genes, new antibiotics can be developed to cure anthrax cases more
effectively.

These genes help the anthrax bacterium in its metabolism, virulence
and protection against the host’s defence mechanism and common
antibiotics. As different genes are targeted, it will be easier to
kill the pathogen, and reduce its chances of developing resistance to
drugs.

The research team comprising GV Ravi, AL Jyothsna, D Pavani and KRS
Sambasiva Rao also identified about two dozen different types of
proteins, which can be utilised to design new medicines to treat all
the three types of anthrax – skin, lung and stomach. Their research
was published in the latest issue of International Journal of
Computational Biology and Drug Design.

“Since 270 genes are exclusive to the bacterium and not present in
human beings, these genes can be targeted. With the heightened
interest in Bacillus anthracis as a potential biological threat agent,
novel drug targets identification is of great importance in drug
discovery. Our study considered a genome–wide approach as putative
drug targets,” the researchers pointed out.

The ANU team is now preparing computer models that can be used in
designing new drugs and targeting the bacterium genomically.

Friday, 21 September 2012

India shares last rank with 2 other countries in global report Nutrition Barometer




Urgent need to increase spending on nutrition
Commission A Health & Nutrition Survey, says Save the Children

Hyderabad: Save the Children’s Nutrition Barometer, a study of nutrition-specific commitments by 36 countries, finds India sharing space with two other countries at the bottom of the table (Refer to Figure 1), failing on both commitments and outcomes. The Barometer aims to provide a snapshot of national governments’ political, legal and financial commitments and progress in addressing child nutrition.  It gauges these commitments that are measurable and comparable across a diverse group of 36 countries that together account for 90 per cent of the world’s stunted children.

The countries that performed best in the Barometer are Guatemala, Malawi and Peru.  All three show strong commitment with strong nutrition outcomes relative to the other countries in the group. Democratic Republic of Congo, India and Yemen show the weakest performance with frail commitments and frail outcomes. In fact, India is the only other country other than the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen that fails on both political and legal, and financial commitments. Countries in South Asia such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal are among the

36 countries that are part of the report but they fare better than India in dealing with malnutrition (please see the table below).

Save the Children India’s CEO Thomas Chandy said, “We know the geographic areas and the social groups where malnutrition levels are the highest. We also know the reasons. The report is a pointer to the need to back political commitment with adequate resources and effective mechanisms. In India, states that have supported their policies and schemes with adequate resources and political will have done much better in dealing with malnutrition and child mortality and maternal mortality.

India comes out frail on both commitments and outcomes. India’s spending on health is abysmally low, a mere 1.67% of the GDP in the 12th Plan.

The Nutrition Barometer builds on existing indices such as the Global Hunger Index produced by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Hunger Reduction Commitment Index (HRCI) released by the Institute of Development Studies. It analyses commitments made by the national government to fight undernutrition and attempts to understand how they move with children’s nutrition status. 


The report recognises that there are many diverse factors determining nutrition outcomes.  UNICEF’s conceptual framework on the causes of malnutrition indicates multi-sectoral intermediate, underlying and basic determinants spanning food, health and care practices. National level factors such as economic growth, social policy, health systems and governance play a big role in combating and addressing nutrition.  Agriculture and food security play a big role as well.  At the household level, income and education are just some of the key factors that affect children’s nutrition.

The outcomes for India have been measured using the National Family and Health Survey 3 (NFHS 3) from 2005-06 in the absence of more recent data on malnutrition being available in the country. “This itself is a big lacuna that the government needs to address immediately. We don’t have accurate data or enough surveys. Unless we track the efficacy of our schemes and policies on the ground there can be no course correction even if it isrequired. There is an urgent need to commission a comprehensive health and nutrition survey in the country, said Shireen Vakil Miller, Director for Advocacy and Policy, Save the Children.

India is also likely to miss the Millennium Development Goal on child mortality. While under-five mortality declined from 107 in 1995 to 64 in 2009. At the present rate India will reach 54 against the target of 42 by 2015. Malnutrition is one of the biggest underlying causes of child mortality in India.

“The results are shocking and a wakeup call for the government of India to start spending more on health and nutrition” says Dr. P. Anjaiah, State Program Manager (AP, TN and Karnataka), Save The Children India.  “There are about 8.8 lakhs children die of malnutrition in India and the lack of commitment in the government would mean increased no of children dying of malnutrition in the country.”  warned Anjaiah. 
Nutrition Barometer


State-wise percentage of underweight children is as follows (NFHS3)

                   State                            % of underweight children (6-59 months)

          Andhra Pradesh                      32.5
          Assam                                      36.4
          Arunachal Pradesh                 32.5
          Bihar                                        55.9
          Chhattisgarh                           47.1
          Delhi                                        26.1
          Goa                                          25.0
          Gujarat                                    44.6
          Haryana                                   39.6
          Himachal Pradesh                  36.5
          J & K                                         25.6
          Jharkhand                                56.5
          Karnataka                                37.6
          Kerala                                      22.9
          Madhya Pradesh                     60.0
          Maharastra                             37.0
          Manipur                                  22.1
          Maghyala                                48.8
          Mizoram                                 19.9
          Nagaland                                25.2
          Orissa                                      40.7



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