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Why life remained just slime for a billion years: Turns out low oxygen WAS to blame after all (?)

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Readers may recall that yesterday we ran a story, “Theory on how animals evolved challenged: Some need almost no oxygen.” Forget that noise. Today we learn:

By analysing ancient seafloor rocks, Ross and his Australian, Russian, US and Canadian colleagues were able to show that the slowdown in evolution was tightly linked to low levels of oxygen and biologically-important elements in the oceans.

“We’ve looked at thousands of samples of the mineral pyrite in rocks that formed in the ancient oceans. And by measuring the levels of certain trace elements in the pyrite, using a technique developed in our labs, we’ve found that we can tell an accurate story about how much oxygen and nutrients were around billions of years ago.”

But the puzzle remains. As the USD researchers who studied sponges showed, life forms do not universally need a lot of oxygen. Accustomed as we are to gasping for breath, we forget that oxygen often acts as a volatile and destructive gas, and many cellular processes require machinery to ensure its exclusion. So if life forms such as the sponges can thrive with little oxygen, we might reasonably expect to find fossils of their type, as opposed to no type, in the billion years before the Ediacaran.

We are living on a planet where at last one bacterium “breathes” iron and another sulfur, the bdelloid rotifer dispensed with sex in favour of horizontal gene transfer, and the sea slug just incorporated its plant meals’ chlorophyll factories (chloroplasts). It almost seems as if, whatever the deficiency, a life form will be found somewhere that can cope with it. But come to think of it, would any of the above-mentioned make good fossils? Maybe we just don’t know enough yet to be sure that the famously “boring billion” years was quite so boring.

Abstract Sedimentary pyrite formed in the water column, or during diagenesis in organic muds, provides an accessible proxy for seawater chemistry in the marine rock record. Except for Mo, U, Ni and Cr, surprisingly little is known about trace element trends in the deep time oceans, even though they are critical to developing better models for the evolution of the Earth’s atmosphere and evolutionary pathways of life. Here we introduce a novel approach to simultaneously quantify a suite of trace elements in sedimentary pyrite from marine black shales. These trace element concentrations, at least in a first-order sense, track the primary elemental abundances in coeval seawater. In general, the trace element patterns show significant variation of several orders of magnitude in the Archaean and Phanerozoic, but less variation on longer wavelengths in the Proterozoic. Certain trace elements (e.g., Ni, Co, As, Cr) have generally decreased in the oceans through the Precambrian, other elements (e.g., Mo, Zn, Mn) have generally increased, and a further group initially increased and then decreased (e.g., Se and U). These changes appear to be controlled by many factors, in particular: 1) oxygenation cycles of the Earth’s ocean–atmosphere system, 2) the composition of exposed crustal rocks, 3) long term rates of continental erosion, and 4) cycles of ocean anoxia. We show that Ni and Co content of seawater is affected by global Large Igneous Province events, whereas redox sensitive trace elements such as Se and Mo are affected by atmosphere oxygenation. Positive jumps in Mo and Se concentrations prior to the Great Oxidation Event (GOE1, c. 2500 Ma) suggest pulses of oxygenation may have occurred as early as 2950 Ma. A flat to declining pattern of many biologically important nutrient elements through the mid to late Proterozoic may relate to declining atmosphere O2, and supports previous models of nutrient deficiency inhibiting marine evolution during this period. These trace elements (Mo, Se, U, Cu and Ni) reach a minimum in the mid Cryogenian and rise abruptly toward the end of the Cryogenian marking the position of a second Great Oxidation Event (GOE2). – Ross R. Large, Jacqueline A. Halpin, Leonid V. Danyushevsky, Valeriy V. Maslennikov, Stuart W. Bull, John A. Long, Daniel D. Gregory, Elena Lounejeva, Timothy W. Lyons, Patrick J. Sack, Peter J. McGoldrick, Clive R. Calver. Trace element content of sedimentary pyrite as a new proxy for deep-time ocean–atmosphere evolution. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2014; 389: 209 DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2013.12.020


After an initial burst of oxygen, the study plots a long decline in oxygen levels during the ‘boring billion’ years before leaping up about 750-550 million years ago. “We think this recovery of oxygen levels led to a significant increase in trace metals in the ocean and triggered the ‘Cambrian explosion of life’.

Add “trace metals” to attempts to account for the Cambrian explosion.

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JGuy @ 1 Cool quote to display on t-shirts and mugs!
"If you start out with false assumptions, and jump from lily pad to lily pad of the nearby erroneous conclusions, you will end up in an alligator’s mouth."
Man has only recently caught on to harnessing the ancient detoxification ability of bacteria to cleanup his accidental toxic spills, as well as his toxic waste, from industry:
What is Bioremediation? - video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSpjRPWYJPg
Of related interest, microbes deep in the earth's crust, contrary to Darwinian presuppositions, are found to be surprisingly similar all over the world:
Collecting Census Data On Microbial Denizens of Hardened Rocks Dec. 9, 2013 Excerpt: What they're finding is that, even miles deep and halfway across the globe, many of these (microbial)communities are somehow quite similar. The results,,, suggest that these communities may be connected,,, he said. "we're seeing the same types of organisms everywhere we look." Schrenk leads a team,, studying samples from deep underground in California, Finland and from mine shafts in South Africa. The scientists also collect microbes from the deepest hydrothermal vents in the Caribbean Ocean. "It's easy to understand how birds or fish might be similar oceans apart," Schrenk said. "But it challenges the imagination to think of nearly identical microbes 16,000 kilometers apart from each other in the cracks of hard rock at extreme depths, pressures and temperatures." "Integrating this region into existing models of global biogeochemistry and gaining better understanding into how deep rock-hosted organisms contribute or mitigate greenhouse gases (and toxic metals) could help us unlock puzzles surrounding modern-day Earth, ancient Earth,,, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131209124115.htm
And on top of the fact that poisonous heavy metals on the primordial earth were brought into 'life-enabling' balance by complex, even coordinated, biogeochemical processes, there was also an explosion of minerals on earth which were a result of that first life, as well as being a result of each subsequent 'Big Bang of life' there afterwards.
Newly Discovered Bacterium Forms Intracellular Minerals - May 11, 2012 Excerpt: A new species of photosynthetic bacterium has come to light: it is able to control the formation of minerals (calcium, magnesium, barium and strontium carbonates) within its own organism. ,, carbonate rocks that date back some 3.5 billion years and are among the earliest traces of life on Earth. (Calcium carbonate, of which chalk, limestone and marble are made, also makes up corals, shells of snails and other animals, and stromatolites. Strontium Carbonate is used in Ceramics, Pyrotechnics, Electronics and metallurgy. Barium carbonate is widely used in the ceramics industry as an ingredient in glazes. It acts as a flux, a matting and crystallizing agent and combines with certain colouring oxides to produce unique colours not easily attainable by other means. In the brick, tile, earthenware and pottery industries barium carbonate is added to clays to precipitate soluble salts. Magnesium carbonate also has several important uses for man.) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120511101352.htm The Creation of Minerals: Excerpt: Thanks to the way life was introduced on Earth, the early 250 mineral species have exploded to the present 4,300 known mineral species. And because of this abundance, humans possessed all the necessary mineral resources to easily launch and sustain global, high-technology civilization. http://www.reasons.org/The-Creation-of-Minerals "Today there are about 4,400 known minerals - more than two-thirds of which came into being only because of the way life changed the planet. Some of them were created exclusively by living organisms" - Bob Hazen - Smithsonian - Oct. 2010, pg. 54 Ancient Minerals: Which Gave Rise to Life? - Nov. 25, 2013 Excerpt: Carnegie's Robert Hazen compiled a list of every plausible mineral species on the Hadean Earth and concludes that no more than 420 different minerals -- about 8 percent of the nearly 5,000 species found on Earth today -- would have been present at or near Earth's surface. By contrast, thousands of mineral species known today are the direct result of growth by living organisms, such as shells and bones, as well as life's chemical byproducts, such as oxygen from photosynthesis. In addition, hundreds of other minerals that incorporate relatively rare elements such as lithium, beryllium, and molybdenum appear to have taken a billion years or more to first appear because it is difficult to concentrate these elements sufficiently to form new minerals. So those slow-forming minerals are also excluded from the time of life's origins. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131125164814.htm
To put it mildly, this minimization of poisonous elements, and 'explosion' of useful minerals, is strong evidence for Intelligently Designed terra-forming of the earth that 'just so happens' to be of great benefit to modern man. Clearly many, if not all, of these metal ores and minerals laid down by these sulfate-reducing bacteria, as well as laid down by the biogeochemistry of more complex life, as well as laid down by finely-tuned geological conditions throughout the early history of the earth, have many unique properties which are crucial for technologically advanced life, and are thus indispensable to man’s rise above the stone age to the advanced 'space-age' technology of modern civilization. supplemental note: The interplay of the biogeochemical (life and earth) processes that produce this balanced. life enabling, oxygen rich, atmosphere are very much more finely tuned than many people imagine:
The Life and Death of Oxygen - 2008 Excerpt: “The balance between burial of organic matter and its oxidation appears to have been tightly controlled over the past 500 million years.” “The presence of O2 in the atmosphere requires an imbalance between oxygenic photosynthesis and aerobic respiration on time scales of millions of years hence, to generate an oxidized atmosphere, more organic matter must be buried (by tectonic activity) than respired.” - Paul Falkowski http://www.creationsafaris.com/crev200810.htm#20081024a The Microbial Engines That Drive Earth’s Biogeochemical Cycles - Falkowski 2008 Excerpt: Microbial life can easily live without us; we, however, cannot survive without the global catalysis and environmental transformations it provides. - Paul G. Falkowski - Professor Geological Sciences - Rutgers http://www.genetics.iastate.edu/delong1.pdf Engineering and Science Magazine - Caltech - March 2010 Excerpt: “Without these microbes, the planet would run out of biologically available nitrogen in less than a month,” Realizations like this are stimulating a flourishing field of “geobiology” – the study of relationships between life and the earth. One member of the Caltech team commented, “If all bacteria and archaea just stopped functioning, life on Earth would come to an abrupt halt.” Microbes are key players in earth’s nutrient cycles. Dr. Orphan added, “...every fifth breath you take, thank a microbe.” http://www.creationsafaris.com/crev201003.htm#20100316a
Verse and Music:
Genesis 2:7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. This is the air I breathe http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gs_qlCWrPk
,,,Please note, that if even one type of bacteria group did not exist in this complex cycle of biogeochemical interdependence, that was illustrated on the third page of the preceding site, then all of the different bacteria would soon die out. This essential biogeochemical interdependence, of the most primitive different types of bacteria that we have evidence of on ancient earth, makes the origin of life ‘problem’ for neo-Darwinists that much worse. For now not only do neo-Darwinists have to explain how the ‘miracle of life’ happened once with the origin of photosynthetic bacteria, but they must now also explain how all these different types bacteria, that photosynthetic bacteria are dependent on, in this irreducibly complex biogeochemical web, miraculously arose just in time to supply the necessary nutrients, in their biogeochemical link in the chain, for photosynthetic bacteria to continue to survive. As well, though not clearly illustrated in the illustration on the preceding site, please note that a long term tectonic cycle, of the turnover the Earth’s crustal rocks, must also be fine-tuned to a certain degree with the bacteria and thus plays a important ‘foundational’ role in the overall ecology of the biogeochemical system that must be accounted for as well. i.e. Since oxygen readily reacts and bonds with many of the solid elements making up the earth itself, and since the slow process of tectonic activity controls the turnover of the earth's crust, it took photosynthetic bacteria a few billion years before the earth’s crust and mantle was saturated with enough oxygen to allow a sufficient level of oxygen to be built up in the atmosphere as to allow higher life:
Earth’s Oxygen: A Mystery Easy to Take for Granted - October 3, 2013 Excerpt: But the oxygen disappeared almost as soon as it was formed. That’s because oxygen is an enormously friendly element, forming bonds with a wide range of molecules. It attached to the iron in rocks, for example, creating rust. It joined with the hydrogen spewed out from volcanoes to form hydrogen peroxide and other compounds. Our planet, in other words, was a giant oxygen vacuum in its early years. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/science/earths-oxygen-a-mystery-easy-to-take-for-granted.html?ref=scienceandtechnology&_r=1& Ancient Earth Crust Stored in Deep Mantle - Apr. 24, 2013 Excerpt: New research,, demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago.,, This indicates that the sulfur comes from a deep mantle reservoir containing crustal material subducted before the Great Oxidation Event and preserved for over half the age of Earth. "These measurements place the first firm age estimates of recycled material in oceanic hotspots," Hauri said. "They confirm the cycling of sulfur from the atmosphere and oceans into mantle and ultimately back to the surface," Hauri said. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130424132705.htm Breathing new life into Earth: New research shows evidence of early oxygen on our planet - August 2011 Excerpt: Waldbauer and Summons surmise that oxygen production and consumption may have occurred in the oceans for hundreds of millions of years before the atmosphere saw even a trace of the gas. They say that in all likelihood, cyanobacteria, blue-green algae living at the ocean surface, evolved the ability to produce O2 via sunlight in a process known as oxygenic photosynthesis. But instead of building up in the oceans and then seeping into the atmosphere, O2 may have been rapidly consumed by early aerobic organisms. Large oceanic and atmospheric sinks, such as iron and sulfide spewing out of subsea volcanoes, likely consumed whatever O2 was left over. http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-08-life-earth-evidence-early-oxygen.html Large Bacterial Population Colonized Land 2.75 Billion Years Ago (Sep. 24, 2012) Excerpt: new research,, suggests that early microbes might have been widespread on land, producing oxygen and weathering pyrite, an iron sulfide mineral, which released sulfur and molybdenum into the oceans.,, "This shows that life didn't just exist in a few little places on land. It was important on a global scale because it was enhancing the flow of sulfate from land into the ocean," "It supports the theory that oxygen was being produced for several hundred million years before the Great Oxidation Event. It just took time for it to reach higher concentrations in the atmosphere," Stüeken said. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120924101741.htm Early life built Earth's continents - 25 November 2013 Excerpt: Norm Sleep, a geophysicist at Stanford University, California, however, says the model fits with what we know about the evolution of Earth, and says the process it describes is backed by indirect evidence of life in early subducted rocks. In particular, the presence of aluminium oxide in continental granite is an indication that life was eroding land and dumping sediment into subduction zones, he says. Such oxides comes from clay, which is mostly produced by the biological weathering of rock. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22029443.100-early-life-built-earths-continents.html#.UpPUDeL4Lmt
More interesting still, the byproducts of the complex biogeochemical processes involved in the oxygen production by these early bacteria are (red banded) iron formations, limestone, marble, gypsum, phosphates, sand, and to a lesser extent, coal, oil and natural gas (note; though some coal, oil and natural gas deposits are from this early era of bacterial life, most coal, oil and natural gas deposits originated on earth after the Cambrian explosion of higher life forms some 540 million years ago). The resources produced by these early photosynthetic bacteria are very useful, one could even very well say 'necessary', for the technologically advanced civilizations of humans today to exist. Interestingly, while the photo-synthetic bacteria were reducing greenhouse gases and producing oxygen, and metal, and minerals, which would all be of benefit to modern man, other types of bacteria were also producing their own natural resources which would be very useful to modern man. Some types of bacteria helped prepare the earth for advanced life by detoxifying the primeval earth and oceans of poisonous levels of heavy metals while depositing them as relatively inert metal ores. Metal ores which are very useful for modern man, as well as fairly easy for man to extract today (mercury, cadmium, zinc, cobalt, arsenic, chromate, tellurium and copper to name a few). To this day, various types of bacteria maintain an essential minimal level of these heavy metals in the ecosystem which are high enough so as to be available to the biological systems of the higher life forms that need them yet low enough so as not to be poisonous to those very same higher life forms.
Bacterial Heavy Metal Detoxification and Resistance Systems: Excerpt: Bacterial plasmids contain genetic determinants for resistance systems for Hg2+ (and organomercurials), Cd2+, AsO2, AsO43-, CrO4 2-, TeO3 2-, Cu2+, Ag+, Co2+, Pb2+, and other metals of environmental concern.,, Recombinant DNA analysis has been applied to mercury, cadmium, zinc, cobalt, arsenic, chromate, tellurium and copper resistance systems. per springer link The role of bacteria in hydrogeochemistry, metal cycling and ore deposit formation: Textures of sulfide minerals formed by SRB (sulfate-reducing bacteria) during bioremediation (most notably pyrite and sphalerite) have textures reminiscent of those in certain sediment-hosted ores, supporting the concept that SRB may have been directly involved in forming ore minerals. http://www.goldschmidt2009.org/abstracts/finalPDFs/A1161.pdf Similar organisms deal with life in the extreme differently, research finds - September 24, 2012 Excerpt: One single-celled organism from a hot spring near Mount Vesuvius in Italy fights uranium toxicity directly – by eating the heavy metal and acquiring energy from it. Another single-celled organism that lives on a "smoldering heap" near an abandoned uranium mine in Germany overcomes uranium toxicity indirectly – essentially shutting down its cellular processes to induce a type of cellular coma when toxic levels of uranium are present in its environment. Interestingly, these very different responses to environmental stress come from two organisms that are 99.99 percent genetically identical. http://phys.org/news/2012-09-similar-life-extreme-differently.html Researchers Identify Mysterious Life Forms in the Extreme Deep Sea Excerpt: Xenophyophores are noteworthy for their size, with individual cells often exceeding 10 centimeters (4 inches), their extreme abundance on the seafloor and their role as hosts for a variety of organisms.,,, The researchers spotted the life forms at depths up to 10,641 meters (6.6 miles) within the Sirena Deep of the Mariana Trench.,,, Scientists say xenophyophores are the largest individual cells in existence. Recent studies indicate that by trapping particles from the water, xenophyophores can concentrate high levels of lead, uranium and mercury,,, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111024165037.htm Unexpected allies help bacteria clean uranium from groundwater - March 8, 2013 Excerpt: Since 2009, SLAC scientist John Bargar has led a team using synchrotron-based X-ray techniques to study bacteria that help clean uranium from groundwater in a process called bioremediation. Their initial goal was to discover how the bacteria do it and determine the best way to help, but during the course of their research the team made an even more important discovery: "Nature" thinks bigger than that. The researchers discovered that bacteria don't necessarily go straight for the uranium, as was often thought to be the case. The bacteria make their own, even tinier allies – nanoparticles of a common mineral called iron sulfide. Then, working together, the bacteria and the iron sulfide grab molecules of a highly soluble form of uranium known as U(VI), or hexavalent uranium, and transform them into U(IV), a less-soluble form that's much less likely to spread through the water table. According to Barger, this newly discovered partnership may be the basis of a global geochemical process that forms deposits of uranium ore.,, Discovering that bacteria work together with minerals to transform uranium was a surprise, said Bargar.,,, But as a scientist, he appreciates the glimpse he's been given into "Nature's" abilities to multitask. "Originally we wanted to see what happened to uranium and how it could help bioremediation technology to be successful," he said. "But scientifically the results are much deeper than that." And since their original hypothesis focused on bacteria alone, it's a little humbling, too. http://phys.org/news/2013-03-unexpected-allies-bacteria-uranium-groundwater.html The Concentration of Metals for Humanity's Benefit: Excerpt: They demonstrated that hydrothermal fluid flow could enrich the concentration of metals like zinc, lead, and copper by at least a factor of a thousand. They also showed that ore deposits formed by hydrothermal fluid flows at or above these concentration levels exist throughout Earth's crust. The necessary just-right precipitation conditions needed to yield such high concentrations demand extraordinary fine-tuning. That such ore deposits are common in Earth's crust strongly suggests supernatural design. per reasons org
Terraforming of the early earth anyone?!? First and foremost, just to get this straight, we now have solid evidence for photosynthetic life suddenly appearing on earth as soon as water appeared on the earth, in the oldest sedimentary rocks ever found on earth.
The Sudden Appearance Of Photosynthetic Life On Earth - video http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4262918 When Did Life on Earth Begin? Ask a Rock (3.85 bya) http://www.astrobio.net/exclusive/293/ When did oxygenic photosynthesis evolve? - Roger Buick - 2008 Excerpt:,, U–Pb data from ca 3.8?Ga metasediments suggest that this metabolism could have arisen by the start of the geological record. Hence, the hypothesis that oxygenic photosynthesis evolved well before the atmosphere became permanently oxygenated seems well supported. http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/363/1504/2731.long When Did Life First Appear on Earth? - Fazale Rana - December 2010 Excerpt: The primary evidence for 3.8 billion-year-old life consists of carbonaceous deposits, such as graphite, found in rock formations in western Greenland. These deposits display an enrichment of the carbon-12 isotope. Other chemical signatures from these formations that have been interpreted as biological remnants include uranium/thorium fractionation and banded iron formations. Recently, a team from Australia argued that the dolomite in these formations also reflects biological activity, specifically that of sulfate-reducing bacteria. http://www.reasons.org/when-did-life-first-appear-earth Iron in Primeval Seas Rusted by Bacteria - Apr. 23, 2013 Excerpt: The oldest known iron ores were deposited in the Precambrian period and are up to four billion years old (the Earth itself is estimated to be about 4.6 billion years old). ,,, This research not only provides the first clear evidence that microorganisms were directly involved in the deposition of Earth's oldest iron formations; it also indicates that large populations of oxygen-producing cyanobacteria were at work in the shallow areas of the ancient oceans, while deeper water still reached by the light (the photic zone) tended to be populated by anoxyenic or micro-aerophilic iron-oxidizing bacteria which formed the iron deposits.,,, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130423110750.htm
Thus we now have fairly conclusive evidence for oxygen producing bacterial life in the oldest sedimentary rocks ever found by scientists on earth. Of note:
Oxygen, the Scourge of Evolution - Oct. 10, 2013 Excerpt: The scourge of evolution has re-emerged?this time with renewed vengeance. Scientists have long known that extremely low levels of free-oxygen [greater than 10^-5] atmosphere on early Earth is critical for any viable origin of life model of evolution.,,, (New) Scientific Evidence for Early Earth Free-Oxygen Theory An international research team led by Sean Crowe (of) University of Southern Denmark in September (2013) published in the journal Nature a paper re-establishing the presence of atmospheric oxygen on early Earth. The team representing the nations of Denmark, South Africa, and Germany discovered oxygen to exceed 30-times beyond the critical concentration of greater than 10^-5. http://www.darwinthenandnow.com/2013/10/oxygen-the-scourge-of-evolution-4/
Moreover we now have evidence that these ancient bacteria lived in complex communities very similar to the microbial mats we see today:
Geobiologist Noffke Reports Signs of Life that Are 3.48 Billion Years Old - 11/11/13 Excerpt: the mats woven of tiny microbes we see today covering tidal flats were also present as life was beginning on Earth. The mats, which are colonies of cyanobacteria, can cause unusual textures and formations in the sand beneath them. Noffke has identified 17 main groups of such textures caused by present-day microbial mats, and has found corresponding structures in geological formations dating back through the ages. http://www.odu.edu/about/odu-publications/insideodu/2013/11/11/topstory1
These following sites have illustrations that shows some of the interdependent, ‘life-enabling’, biogeochemical complexity of different types of bacterial life on Earth.,,,
Biologically mediated cycles for hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and iron – image of interdependent ‘biogeochemical’ web http://www.sciencemag.org/content/320/5879/1034/F2.large.jpg Microbial Mat Ecology – Image on page 92 (third page down) http://www.dsls.usra.edu/biologycourse/workbook/Unit2.2.pdf
If you start out with false assumptions, and jump from lily pad to lily pad of the nearby erroneous conclusions. You will end up in an alligator's mouth. First quotes free. ;) You guys have permission to print that onto t-shirts and coffee cups and sell them. JGuy

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