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Tag: laboratory

Reporter probes what’s inside dog mouths

You’d think Brian Andrews, as an investigative reporter at CBS News in Miami, would have plenty of legitimate and important issues to pursue — given all the land-raping, government corruption, injustice, drugs and sleaze the state of Florida has to offer.

Instead, he took his investigative skills inside a dog’s mouth. And he discovered there were germs in there.

News flash? Not exactly. We present it here not because it’s breaking news, but because it’s a good example of broken news — the kind of dopey reports that are increasingly common these days as TV news outfits, like newspapers, and websites, opt for quick and easy, crowd-scaring or crowd-pleasing, stories, then do their best to hype, tease and sensationalize them.

To determine whether you should let your dog lick your face, Andrews, a member of the station’s “special projects” team, gathered saliva samples from dogs in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and sent them to a lab to be tested, as part of the station’s continuing series called “How Dirty Is It?”

He was trying to determine if the adage nobody believes in the first place — the one about a dog’s mouth being a pristinely clean place — was really true.

We all know, or should, that there are going to be germs in a dog’s mouth, based simply on the sort of things that go in there. We also know, or should, that there are also plenty of germs in our own.

Upon completion of the doggy saliva tests, Nova Southeastern University microbiologist Dr. Julie Torruellas-Garcia concluded, “There was quite a bit of bacteria that grew from the dogs’ mouths.”

Based on the cultures grown in the lab from the samples, she said, there was “evidence of Nyceria, which is linked to STDs, pneumonia and plaque.”

“While our testing did not reveal the presence of any e-coli or bacteria that could cause a staph infection, Dr. Torruellas-Garcia and her students found globs of other microbes,” the news report said.

“You may want to think twice,” the report reads, “before you and your dog exchange siliva.” (We’re pretty sure they meant saliva.)

After raising fears about mouth to mouth contact with dogs, Andrews, in a complete turnaround, goes on to present a veterinarian who said kissing your dog isn’t all that dangerous. West Palm Beach Veterinarian Ken Simmons said any bacteria in a dog’s mouth doesn’t stay there for long.

“In the end, the testing didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary,” the story reports.

So the point of it all was …?

Yes, the canine mouth, like the human mouth, is a breeding ground for germs. (Perhaps a more interesting story approach would have been if Andrews swabbed inside his own mouth, and compared the germs he might be carrying behind his own well-flossed grill with those of dogs.)

And, yes, dogs can pass on illnesses to us, and vice versa.

But spare us the scare tactics, news guys. Stop wasting our time by telling us the obvious, because, obviously, we already know that. And don’t bad-mouth dogs, no matter how bad their mouths are.

UK’s first canine clone is born in Seoul

miniwinnie

With more than 500 canine clones now roaming the world, you wouldn’t think the fact that one has been produced for a pet owner in the UK would make such a big splash.

But it has, and a big splash is just what the cloners had in mind.

To introduce its unique service to Britain, Sooam Biotech, the South Korean laboratory that’s now the only company cloning dogs, borrowed from an earlier chapter in dog cloning’s bizarre history. It held a public contest, awarding a free cloning as the grand prize.

The winner: Rebecca Smith, 29, of London, who learned in late March that a clone of her 12-year-old dachshund Winnie had been born in a Seoul laboratory, BBC reported.

She named the dog Mini Winnie.

The competition saw dog owners submit videos of their dogs and compete for the chance to “immortalize” their pet for free. The bill for dog cloning normally runs around $100,000.

“Sooam Biotech is looking for one person with the most special and inspiring reason for cloning his/her beloved dog,” the company said in announcing the contest.

The contest was similar to one held in the U.S. when dog cloning first hit the market. It was called the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” and the winner was TrakR, a search and rescue dog whose owner said the German shepherd found the last survivor in the rubble of 9/11.

The weird and wacky story of how dog cloning was achieved, how it was marketed, and the first customers to sign up for it can be found in my book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

The UK’s first canine clone — who won’t arrive in the country until after a 6-month quarantine period — was cloned at Sooam Biotech, a laboratory run by Hwang Woo Suk, who was a member of the Seoul National University team that produced the world’s first canine clone, Snuppy, in 2005.

That research began after an earlier effort to clone a dog in the U.S., at Texas A&M University, was unsuccessful.

The Texas A&M research was funded by John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix. After cloning a cat, and assorted farm animals, the Texas A&M efforts to clone a dog were called off, but Sperling’s front man, who had established a company to store the cells of dead and dying dogs (Genetic Savings & Clone), even before dog cloning was achieved, later teamed up Hwang and Sooam to offer an online auction, with the highest bidders receiving clones of their dogs.

SONY DSCHwang founded his lab after getting fired from Seoul National University when his claim to have produced the world’s first cloned human embryos was deemed fraudulent. He was later convicted of embezzling research funds and illegally buying human eggs, but his 18-month sentence was suspended.

Hwang has more recently has embarked on trying to clone a woolly mammoth from 10,00-year-old remains found frozen in Siberia.

Meanwhile, he’s churning out laboratory-created dogs, more than 500 of which have been born to surrogate mother dogs at his lab and kennel.

To create Mini Winnie, a piece of skin was taken from Winnie and transported to Seoul. Cells from the sample were placed inside an anonymous donor dog’s egg cell and, with a jolt of electricity, they merged.

Then the embryo was implanted inside a surrogate dog that gave birth, via Caesarean, to Winnie on March 30.

“The world would be a better place with more Winnies in it,” Smith, 29, says in a Channel 4 documentary, “The £60,000 Puppy: Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

smithandwinnieSmith received the original Winnie as a present on her 18th birthday, and she says the dog helped her overcome “lots of demons,” including an eating disorder. Smith says Mini Winnie looks identical to the original, who is old and arthritic, but still alive.

Hundreds of pet owners have had dogs cloned since the first customer, a California woman who received five copies of her dead pit bull, Booger.

Critics of the process say cloning doesn’t result in the resurrection of an animal, but a laboratory-made twin, whose creation requires the involvement of numerous other dogs, and who might not act like the original at all.

Initially, two South Korean companies were cloning dogs for pet owners (and even more for research purposes), but one of the, RNL Bio, has pulled out of the dog-cloning business.

While the cloning process has grown more efficient, some animal welfare groups say risks are still high.

Dr Katy Taylor, Head of Science at The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: “Cloning is a very unpredictable and extremely wasteful process … In order to produce just one ‘perfect’ clone, many puppies with the same genes as a loved animal will be born … Some of these puppies will be aborted or will die soon after birth from unpredictable health complications and severe birth defects.”

Defective pups, and the South Korean laboratory’s failure to follow animal welfare protocols, were among the reasons cited by the American company that teamed up with Hwang for pulling out of its dog cloning arrangement.

The documentary, while it mostly follows the judges as they visit with contestants and their dogs, does go some interesting places, including Edinburg, for an interview with Sir Ian Wilmut, cloner of Dolly the sheep. Wilmut doesn’t endorse pet cloning, and says he remains skeptical of it, saying it will lead to lots of disappointed customers who, despite their hopes, won’t get an animal with the same personality as the original.

There’s also an interview with a pet owner, not a contestant, who views dog cloning as a Hitleresque pursuit, and there are several allusions to the fact that some Koreans eat dog meat.

“The £60,000 Puppy: Cloning Man’s Best Friend” was made by the same independent production company that produced “I Cloned My Pet,” several episodes of which appeared on TLC.

“The £60,000 Puppy” is an improvement over those productions, which brushed aside most ethical questions and animal welfare concerns about pet cloning. While the new documentary doesn’t delve too deeply into them either, it does present something more than a one-sided view.

Like the earlier documentaries, it reinforces that most customers of dog cloning are, shall we say, eccentric sorts, and that their attachment to their dogs — as with all of us — is a powerful one.

Perhaps the most telling moment, though, comes as the judges debate — American Idol style — the public relations benefits of each contestant.

After that, the winner is … after a long, long pause … announced.

Cloning, it seems, is no longer some futuristic pipedream. It has become a reality, and apparently an entertainment form.

My view? Cloning is no game show, or at least it shouldn’t be.

(Photos: Top, Mini Winnie / Channel 4; middle, Hwang in his lab / John Woestendiek; bottom; Smith and the original Winnie / Channel 4)

Fecal responsibility: Boulder looks at DNA testing to track down poop scofflaws

poopquestionBoulder City Councilwoman Mary Young wants to know how feasible it would be to require DNA samples from dogs, and create a registry so that, through DNA analysis, poop left on city trails could be traced to dog owners.

She’s not suggesting every dog in Boulder be tested (yet) — just the estimated 35,000 with so-called “green tags” that allow them to romp off-leash on some of the city’s trails and greenspaces.

Young has asked that the issue be discussed at tonight’s City Council meeting, the Boulder Daily Camera reports. (Yes, it happens to be an April Fools Day meeting, but nobody’s joking here.)

I would hope Boulder looks not just at whether it can be done (it can), but at whether it should be — that city leaders consider, in addition to the price tag of such a venture, the ethics and implications and utter goofiness of it.

There’s a lot of dog-related technology I don’t like (click the banner at the top of this page for one example) and poop-detection technology is near the top of the list.

Not just because of its Orwellian overtones, not just because it’s heavy-handed, dictatorial, silly, creepy, intrusive and expensive.  It’s also because technology, unleashed, has a habit of oozing beyond the boundaries of its originally intended purpose — DNA-testing of dog poop being just such a case — and spreading into ever scarier realms.

The day could still come when your tossed cigarette butt, un-recycled soda can or expectorated phlegm could be traced back to you, which, come to think of it, might be a better use of DNA technology than that being offered by the dog poop sleuths.

Declaring war on poop, and bringing out technology’s big guns, is overkill. Especially when the real solution can be achieved by simply bending over and picking up what your dog leaves behind.

In case you haven’t been following our posts on this issue, here’s how it works:

Deciding unscooped dog poop is simply intolerable, homeowners associations, apartment complexes or government entities sign up with a company called PooPrints, which sends them the supplies needed for residents to take swabs from the cheeks of their dogs. Those are sent to Tennessee, and a doggie DNA registry is created.

After that, any pile of poop that is found can be gathered, packaged and sent to a lab in Tennessee, where it can be unpackaged and tested and, by comparing DNA markers, matched to an individual dog, assuming that dog’s DNA is in the registry.

The company lets management know who the poopetrator was, and the owner is fined $100 or so — or, if a repeat offender, perhaps told they and/or their dog should move somewhere else. Thereby a community is made safe from scofflaws, as well as, say, a grandmother whose back might have been hurting too much one day to pick up every last dropping left by her Shih Tzu.

Here in my current home state, North Carolina, apartment complexes in Winston-Salem and Wilmington are among the growing number of property management companies and government entities turning to PooPrints.

Yes, dog poop can be hazardous to our health, and harmful to the environment.

So can the feces of all the non-domesticated animals we live among, but don’t feel compelled to prosecute for pooping.

danriversludgeSo, too, can the dumpage of corporate entities, like the thousands of tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River by Duke Energy, coating 70 miles of the river with toxic sludge.

That’s a little harder to pick up after, and, I’d suggest, at least as deserving of society’s consternation and oversight and vigilance as dog poop — even if punishing the culprit won’t make them change their ways. (Big companies, unlike the average dog owner, can hire lawyers to avoid fines, and, if unsuccessful, they just pass the costs along to their customers.)

Finding clean sources of energy — that’s a use of technology I like. Using DNA to solve murders  (and clear the wrongly convicted) seems a good use,  too.

But gathering, packaging and mailing dog poop so technicians in Tennessee can comb through it and test it, by comparison, seems a silly use of our technological muscles.

In Colorado, Boulder officials say dog waste on public trails is one of the most common complaints the city receives, so it’s not surprising that they’d turn to a company that claims to have the solution.

Eric Mayer, director of business development for BioPet Vet Lab in Knoxville, Tenn., said the company’s PooPrint service is used by private property management companies in 45 states and in Canada. Franchises are popping up all over, like Burger Kings.

So far, the company doesn’t have contracts with any municipalities, but officials have been in talks with a half dozen different local governments. He said he expects to sign the first municipal PooPrints contract with Ipswich, Mass., sometime this year.

Maybe, if poop detection continues to catch on, it would be good for the economy. Maybe, you too could have a fulfilling career as a dog poop laboratory technician.

But there are far better ways to spend our time and money, and far bigger problems more deserving of our rage. Between all the emotion, and all the technology, we seem to forget that we can simply …

Pick it up!

(Top photo, fake poop question mark, from Big Mouth Toys; bottom photo, sludge from the Dan River spill, courtesy of Dan River Basin Association)

Killing dogs to make our smiles prettier

I’m a big fan of dogs, and not a fan of dentistry at all, so as you might expect I’ve got some problems with dogs being used to test out dental implants, in hopes of making better and safer ones for humans.

Especially considering that dogs are suffering and dying in the process, as The Humane Society of the United States  says is the case at Georgia Regents University.

The HSUS last week released this report, containing undercover footage obtained during its three-month-long investigation at GRU. The experiments lead to two questions in my mind.

First, since the research is supposed to benefit humans, why not use humans for the tests? I’m sure there are  plenty of people who are in need of dental implants and who, unable to afford them, might be willing to volunteer. I myself might take the risk, assuming that the researchers don’t insist on killing me afterwards to get a sample of my jawbone.

And that’s question number two: Why is it necessary to kill a dog after he’s already made an unwilling contribution to science — or at least a contribution to us humans being able to have gap-free permanent false teeth and not having to mess with things like denture adhesives?

As one dentist told the Humane Society, it’s not.

“In the two studies I reviewed, human research subjects could have been used, given that the products were already approved by the Food and Drug Administration and bone biopsies are commonly done in human studies,” said James P. Jensvold, DDS.

“Animals used in research are often ‘sacrificed’ at the end of the study, and this is accepted as standard practice without taking into consideration the unnecessary emotional and physical suffering that the animals must endure,” Jensvold added. “As a dental student and oral and maxillofacial surgery resident, I witnessed laboratory animals being treated as little different than a test tube, which is inconsistent with the values of compassionate healthcare.”

“Dogs don’t need to die for frivolous dental experiments,” said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. “It’s painful to watch these forlorn dogs sacrificed for these questionable purposes…”

If you tend to distrust dentists, and Wayne Pacelle, perhaps you’ll believe actress Kim Basinger, who narrates the HSUS report:

“GRU buys dogs from a Class B dealer who’s under federal investigation,” she notes. “Dogs like Shy Guy, along with others, who may have been famiily pets, were all used for unnecessary dental experiments. Their teeth were pulled out and replaced. It’s very painful, just look into their eyes.”

dentastix(Dogs used in the experiments, after having their teeth removed, are given a canine version of dental implants, not human ones, like you find in those freakish — to me, anyway — ads for Pedigree Dentastix.)

The HSUS investigator witnessed dogs having  their teeth pulled out and replaced with implants. Once the experiments were over, the dogs were euthanized for a small sample of their jaw bone. GRU has been conducting dental implant research on random-source Class B dogs for years.

There are only six random-source Class B Dealers still active in the U.S. They are permitted to gather dogs and cats from various sources, including auctions, “free to good home” ads, online sources, flea markets, and even animal control and some shelter facilities — and resell them to research facilities. There have been cases of stolen pets ending up in research laboratories via ClassB dealers, the HSUS says.

The dealer who sold the dogs to GRU, Kenneth Schroeder, has previously been charged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including obtaining dogs from unauthorized sources, according to the HSUS.

Dr. Mark Hamrick, Senior Vice President for Research at Georgia Regents University, issued the school’s response to the HSUS allegations:

“As an institution, we are committed to research that will provide a direct benefit to patient lives by restoring function to damaged and diseased organs and tissues … The Food and Drug Administration, which provides oversight for medical device safety and procedures including dental implants, requires preclinical studies in animals demonstrating that the device or procedure is both safe and effective for its intended use in humans … The research being done with dogs is neither frivolous nor unnecessary, as alleged by the investigation, and is performed in order to develop safe, effective dental procedures for people.”

The HSUS says the studies are being done at the university in part to compare a dental implant invented by researchers at GRU, in conjunction with a private company, with that of a competitor.

According to the HSUS, 65,000 dogs per year are used for research, testing, and education in the U.S.

Calling all “Freegles”: Beagles rescued from N.J. lab will celebrate one year free

It’s the one-year anniversary for 120 beagles who, around this time last year, learned the true meaning of independence.

Up until then, even here in the land of the free, they weren’t.

Instead, like thousands of other beagles bred and born for the sole purpose of laboratory use, they’d never experienced what most dogs take for granted — things like grass and dirt and running — and were destined, once their use in testing was complete, for something quite contrary to a loving home.

The beagles had been left locked in a research facility operated by Aniclin Preclinical Services in Warren County, N.J. after its parent pharmaceutical company went bankrupt. When their situation came to light, a judge order the dogs turned over to rescue groups.

One year ago, a group of them were welcomed to Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary in New York, where work began on socializing them so they could be adopted out as family pets.

This coming Sunday, some of them will gather for a reunion.

About 35 of the adopters stay in touch on Facebook, offering support and following each others progress through photos and stories.

They — and any of the others who adopted a “freegle,” as they are prone to calling the dogs rescued from the laboratory — are gathering July 10, from 12:30 to 4 p.m., at Kennedy Dells Park, 355 North Main Street in New City, New York.

Among those attending will be a beagle named Grace, who has her own Facebook page, called Saving Grace. Grace’s owner said that while word of the reunion has gotten out among those who stay in touch, other beagles adopted from the group are also invited, as well as everyone else who participated in rescuing them.

Shelters, sanctuaries, volunteers and staff are “most welcome to attend and meet the families and hear the stories of how the Freegles have been adjusting to the good life.”

(For questions or to RSVP, send an email to labfreegles@yahoo.com.)

Unlike some boisterous beagles you may know from the dog park, laboratory beagles are generally calm and passive, having never tasted of freedom.

I met several lab beagles while researching my book — including some flourescent beagle clones in South Korea. In Texas, I interviewed the woman who cared for the beagles used in attempting to clone a dog at Texas A&M University.

Jessica Harrison, a graduate student at the time, was in charge of socializing the beagles and finding adoptive homes for them — not usually the case or fate of laboratory beagles — after their services in the lab were no longer required.

“What they teach them is to be still,” she told me. “As puppies, they teach them to just freeze when a person messes with them. We had to kindo of undo that and say, ‘No,we want you to move around and be excited.’

“We slowly exposed them to all the things they’d be exposed to in a family home — like TVs, mirrors, grass, trees, flowers, birds and bees. These dogs had never seen any of that. You put them down on the grass, and they’re like, ‘What’s this?’ It was kind of overwheliming. You get used to it, but at first it’s like, these are dogs, how can they not know these things?”

The use of dogs in laboratory research was declining, but it has jumped up in recent years, with much of the increase due to advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

(Photos: Top photo from the Facebook page of Freegles Justice and Skipper; bottom photo by John Woestendiek)

Utah labs cease use of shelter animals

The University of Utah has announced that it will no longer purchase dogs and cats from North Utah Valley Animal Shelter (NUVAS) — or any other animal shelter — for use in medical experiments.

The decision was praised by PETA, which has waged a lengthy campaign against the practice.

“PETA is thrilled for the dogs, cats and people of Utah now that the University of Utah has stopped using animal shelters as dirt-cheap sources of living lab equipment, marking the complete end of pound seizure in the state,’’ said Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s vice president for laboratory investigations.

Until last year, animal shelters in Utah were required to sell cats and dogs in their custody to the university under a practice known as pound seizure. A change in state law made it voluntary for shelters to participate. The North Utah Valley Animal Shelter, however, continued to supply animals for research in the belief that it was helping to ease human suffering and advance medical knowledge.

NUVAS sold the university about 100 dogs and cats a year, Director Tug Gettling told the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The practice, over the years, saw hundreds of former pets and strays sacrificed for purposes of medical experimentation — though not all that were used in experiments were killed.  Last year, a pet owner who turned her dog, Sheena (above) over to the shelter was shocked to learn — when she called to see if she had been adopted — that the dog had been sold to the university for experimentation. Later, with help from PETA, she launched a successful campaign to get the dog back from the university and into an adoptive home.

According to the Tribune, the decades-old practice of buying animals from shelters was halted by the university in mid-January.

Thomas Parks, the university’s vice president for research, said the decision was aimed at bringing an end to the campaign against the shelter by animal welfare advocates. Parks said the university will instead obtain dogs bred for laboratory use by certified breeders — a costlier but less controversial method.

PETA’s Guillermo said she hoped the added cost of specially bred animals would lead the university to seek alternatives to using live animals in its experiments.

Parks said employees at the non-profit municipal shelter “have been suffering a lot of harassment” and that the shelter has received thousands of hostile emails and phone calls, several bomb threats and at least three public protests.

A Salt Lake Tribune investigation a year ago found that about 60 percent of all shelter animals the shelter provided to the university between 2007 and 2009 were killed after being experimented on, while the rest entered an adoption program.

Laboratory use of dogs on the upswing

Given the endlessly rising popularity of dogs, and our increasing emotional attachment to them, medical researchers who use them for experiments can expect stronger and growing opposition to the practice from the public, a leading expert in canine-human interaction told a conference at Johns Hopkins University this week.

James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, was the keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The 30-year-old, non–profit center promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. It seeks ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved

Serpell and other speakers both pointed out that after decades of declining, the use of dogs in medical research has increased in the last couple of years.

U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the number of dogs used in medical research and testing dropped from 200,000 in 1973 to 66,000 in 2007, said Tanya Burkholder, chief of the Small Animal Section at the National Institutes of Health. Now, she said, the number has risen to about 75,000 a year.

Much of the increase is likely a result of advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

Ivan Pavlov

Dogs have always been a valuable research model for scientists, going as far back as Aristotle’s day. Their size, physiology and cooperative behavior have made them convenient models for scientists, who, like Pavlov’s dog, grew conditioned to using them in experiments.

While public opposition to subjecting dogs to medical experiments resulted in the practice dwindling in recent decades, the use of dogs has crept up again in the last two years due to advances in molecular biology, genetics and the sequencing of the canine genome.

Because dogs get about 220 of the same inherited diseases and disorders that humans do — including Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and retinal degeneration – medical researchers are able to study the underlying genetic defects and, through dogs, seek cures.

This means dogs are being bred to be born with the diseases in colonies at U.S. universities and research institutes and, in the case of South Korea, cloned to be born with the diseases.

No one at the conference went so far as to suggest a halt to using dogs in research, but Serpell warned that the practice does come with risks, and a price.

Dogs evoke protective and nurturing instincts in people, and those have grown stronger as the dog-human relationship has evolved — to the point that dogs are viewed more as family members than family pets. Public opposition to the laboratory use of dogs has continually grown in the last few decades.

Researchers need to be cognizant not just of society’s strong feelings about dogs, but also about dog’s strong feelings for humans, Serpell said.  “Many dogs undergo severe distress when contact with a human is limited or thwarted. We don’t give that regard sufficient credence,” he said.

The stronger attachment to dogs is in part due to breeders focusing on creating animals for purposes of human companionship, unlike in the past when they were bred for the work they could do. Serpell noted that baby-like features, for one thing, appeal to humans.

Showing photos of dogs, Serpell pointed to one and said, “This animal looks like it was invented by Walt Disney.”

Our attraction to dogs stems too from the fact that they make eye contact with humans more than any other species, and studies have shown that petting, or even looking, at a dog increases our levels of oxytocin.

“These dogs are turning us on by looking at us,” he said.

Our evolving closeness to dogs has implications for the laboratory, he noted, and perhaps all of society.

Serpell pointed to commentator Tucker Carlson’s recent statement that dogs are the social equals of humans, and that therefore Micheal Vick should have been executed for killing them.

“Lots of people feel the same way,” he said.

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