[Paleopsych] Fw: your e-straw poll

G. Reinhart-Waller waluk at earthlink.net
Sun Apr 24 23:27:13 UTC 2005

Apparently I must concur with both Lorraine and Alice since I find 
Frank's posts very far reaching and containing information I don't 
readily come across in other places. So far I have no difficulty in 
keeping up with the numerous webmails that Frank sends....and when no 
one else has emailed me when I check in, Frank is always there with a 
smidgen or so for me to read. What I do is scroll down through his posts 
and press the delete key when I'm either already familiar with the info 
or it is of no interest to me at present. Usually my webmail hovers 
around 200 or more per day so what Premise Checker has forwarded is not 
a problem.

Best wishes,

Alice Andrews wrote:

> I concur with Lorraine!
> Another thing that might be helpful, for some, is to create a 'Premise 
> Checker' folder that Frank's webmails go directly into. (On Outlook 
> Express this can be done by creating a new message rule.) While, of 
> course, it doesn't change the amount of emails, it might provide a 
> sense of order...
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Alice Andrews <mailto:andrewsa at newpaltz.edu>
> *To:* Premise Checker <mailto:checker at panix.com>
> *Sent:* Sunday, April 24, 2005 7:39 AM
> *Subject:* your e-straw poll
> Hi Frank,
> Whatever you end up doing will be just fine w//me/...However, I happen 
> (also) to like having the articles in the body of the text (in 
> addition to a link), as you've been doing...Some of them (and not just 
> the science ones) are wonderful and have helped me tremendously in my 
> teaching, writing, and research. So (more) thanks! Have you sent this 
> one in, btw?
> All best,
> Alice
>     http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17973
>     /The New York Review of Books/:
>     Vive la Différence!
>         By H. Allen Orr <http://www.nybooks.com/authors/9368>
>           Adam's Curse: A Future Without Men
>           <http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41397204&bfpid=0393058964>
>           by Bryan Sykes
> Norton, 320 pp., $25.95; $15.95 (paper)
>           Y: The Descent of Men
>           <http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41397204&bfpid=0618565612>
>           by Steve Jones
> Houghton Mifflin, 252 pp., $25.00
>           The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives
>           <http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=41397204&bfpid=0674016211>
>           By David Bainbridge
> Harvard University Press, 205 pp., $22.95; $14.95 (paper)
> The human genome is made up of forty-six chromosomes, the rod-like 
> structures that reside in the nucleus of every cell. These chromosomes 
> carry all of our genes, which, in turn, are made of DNA. Two of these 
> chromosomes, called the X and the Y, are different from the rest: they 
> are "sex chromosomes." Men carry one X and one Y chromosome, while 
> women carry two X chromosomes. All the obvious physical differences 
> between the sexes ultimately spring from this humble difference in 
> chromosomal constitution.
> During the last few years, real progress has been made in our 
> understanding of the sex chromosomes and we now know much more about 
> our X and Y than we did a mere decade ago. In 2003, for example, 
> essentially the entire stretch of DNA carried on the human Y 
> chromosome was decoded, revealing the number and, in many cases, 
> identity of the genes that make up this seat of maleness. More 
> important, owing to a breakthrough that occurred in the early 
> Nineties, biologists now understand just how sex is decided in human 
> beings—geneticists identified the master "switch gene" that determines 
> whether an embryo will develop into a male or a female.
> These discoveries might seem surprisingly recent. In view of the 
> confident pronouncements in the medical press about all things having 
> to do with sex and gender (homosexuality, for example, was said to be 
> genetically determined), you'd be forgiven for assuming that the 
> biology of how a human being becomes a boy or a girl has long been 
> understood. To be fair, though, there were good reasons for the slow 
> progress. How sex is determined represents a rare problem in which the 
> study of simpler organisms like fruit flies led biologists astray. Sex 
> determination in human beings specifically and in mammals generally 
> doesn't work the way it does in most of the species that geneticists 
> like to study. Moreover, genetic studies in human beings are simply 
> harder to perform than those in species like the fruit fly: a 
> generation is more like two decades than two weeks, and we can't 
> dictate who mates with whom, an ethical constraint that doesn't arise 
> with flies.
> Although the three books discussed here cover much of the same ground, 
> one stands out from the rest. Bryan Sykes's /Adam's Curse/ is both far 
> more ambitious, and controversial, than Steve Jones's or David 
> Bainbridge's book. Sykes, a professor of genetics at Oxford University 
> and author of the best-selling /The Seven Daughters of Eve/, sounds 
> loud alarms about an impending biological crisis involving the Y 
> chromosome. He also makes bold sociobiological claims about the effect 
> of the Y chromosome on our lives. Because Sykes is a leading 
> researcher in the study of sex chromosomes (not to mention a science 
> adviser to the House of Commons), his pronouncements merit special 
> attention.
>       1.
> Sykes begins his book with the discovery of the master gene that 
> decides sex in human beings. For decades, biologists understood that 
> human beings have so-called Y-dominant sex determination. Roughly 
> speaking, if you carry a Y chromosome, you're a male, while if you 
> don't carry a Y chromosome, you're a female. As a result, rare 
> individuals born with two X's /and/ a Y are boys, while rare 
> individuals born with one X and no Y are girls. There is therefore 
> something on the Y, not the X, that decides sex. Identifying this 
> something, however, proved extraordinarily difficult.
> As often occurs in human genetics, the key breakthrough involved 
> extremely rare exceptions to the above rules. In the late 1980s, 
> several people were found whose sex appeared not to match their sex 
> chromosomes. Some were patients who had an X and a Y chromosome and 
> yet were female. Careful study revealed that these patients' Y 
> chromosomes were incomplete—they lacked a small, defined piece of the 
> normal chromosome. Others were patients who carried two X chromosomes 
> and (apparently) no Y and yet were male. Careful study revealed that 
> these patients carried a very small piece of the Y chromosome, 
> typically too small to be seen under a microscope. Remarkably, the 
> small bit of the Y missing from the female patients roughly 
> corresponded to the small piece present in the male patients. This 
> proved that sex does not depend on the presence or absence of an 
> entire Y chromosome and further suggested that whatever gene or genes 
> decide sex reside in the relevant small region of the Y. The race to 
> locate the human "sex determination gene" was on.
> As Sykes recounts it, the race was filled with false starts. In 1987, 
> a research team at the Whitehead Institute near Boston announced the 
> discovery of ZFY, a gene that sits in the appropriate part of the Y 
> and that had certain molecular features that, the team believed, made 
> it a strong candidate for the sex gene in humans. Soon, however, the 
> ZFY story unraveled (for one thing, ZFY turned out to also sit on the 
> X chromosome, which made little sense) and the race, briefly 
> suspended, began anew.
> In the 1990s, another research team led by Peter Goodfellow and Robin 
> Lovell-Badge at the Human Molecular Genetics Laboratory and National 
> Institute for Medical Research in London identified another Y 
> chromosome gene which they confidently named SRY, for Sex Determining 
> Region of the Y chromosome. Their confidence was, in this case, well 
> placed. During the following year, the same team performed a critical 
> experiment proving that SRY does in fact determine sex in mammals. 
> Injecting a copy of the SRY gene into mouse eggs, the team produced a 
> mouse that carried two X chromosomes and SRY—and it was male. SRY was 
> able, therefore, to force an embryo otherwise destined to become 
> female to develop instead as male. As Sykes recalls, the "star mouse, 
> swinging on a stick and sporting enormous testicles to prove the 
> point, made the cover of the edition of /Nature/" that announced the 
> discovery of SRY.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Although many details of how SRY works remain uncertain, some things 
> are clear: SRY is a special kind of gene that has the power to switch 
> other genes on or off. Genes exist in two states: on, in which they 
> make a protein product (say, hemoglobin for your red blood cells), or 
> off, in which they sit idly, making no protein product. SRY can switch 
> some genes from one of these states to the other. No one imagines, 
> therefore, that the many physical features that distinguish boys from 
> girls—penises not vaginas, testes not ovaries, and so on—reflect the 
> immediate effects of SRY alone. Rather, SRY sits at the top of a 
> genetic cascade: if present, it switches on a set of other genes, some 
> of which may in turn switch on yet other genes, and so on. (These 
> other genes do not reside on the Y, but are scattered throughout the 
> genome.) The cumulative effect of all this genetic switching is the 
> development of testes; and the testes in turn produce hormones that 
> then complete the development of a male anatomy. As this description 
> implies, it is also now clear that the original state of a human 
> embryo is female. It takes active work by SRY to divert the normal 
> path of development from female to male, a process that, in human 
> beings, starts when the fetus is seven weeks old.
> Sykes gives an excellent account of the subtleties of human sex 
> determination. Indeed he skillfully leads us through a number of other 
> topics in human genetics, including his own research on the use of Y 
> chromosome "fingerprinting" to reconstruct the movement of men 
> throughout history. Contemporary Polynesian men, for example, often 
> carry Y chromosomes whose DNA clearly derives from Europe, a vestige 
> of the conjugal visits of European sailors in the age of exploration. 
> And an astonishing number of men who live within the borders of the 
> old Mongol Empire carry what is genetically the same Y chromosome. 
> Sykes suggests that this extraordinarily popular Y may descend from 
> Genghis Khan himself, who typically slaughtered the men he conquered 
> and bedded the women he vanquished throughout much of Central Asia.
> Fascinating as all this is, though, it turns out to be preliminary, a 
> long preamble to Sykes's real purpose: to warn the world of his most 
> important discovery—that human beings face an immense genetic 
> disaster. And here Sykes's book takes a sharp turn for the worse.
>       2.
> Although Sykes doesn't describe this impending disaster until fairly 
> late in his book, the subtitle to /Adam's Curse/ gives it right away: 
> we face a future without men. Sykes is convinced that the male of the 
> species is doomed. Unless something is done—and soon— men face an 
> "inevitable eventual extinction." You won't be surprised to learn that 
> the alleged causes of this crisis reside in the Y chromosome. Sykes's 
> publishers have, predictably, latched on to this dire news and the 
> cover of his book speaks in ominous tones of the certain extinction of 
> half of humanity. Also not surprisingly, the press has played along, 
> with pieces in /The New York Times/ and /The Guardian/ warning that 
> men may be a thing of the past.^[1] 
> <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17973#fn1>
> Sykes's case for the extinction of men hinges on an unusual problem 
> plaguing many genes on the Y chromosome—they tend to pick up 
> debilitating mutations and to ultimately degenerate into genetic junk. 
> A couple of hundred million years ago or so, the X and Y were a pair 
> of perfectly ordinary chromosomes that each carried a full complement 
> of the same thousand genes. Since then, however, the Y has been slowly 
> degenerating. As a result, while the human X still carries its 
> thousand genes, the Y carries only about a hundred. Sykes believes 
> that the genes that remain on the Y—including SRY as well as others 
> required for the fertility of men—will also degenerate. The disastrous 
> consequence, he says, will be the disappearance of fertile males. 
> (Sykes sometimes says that males will become sterile, while at other 
> times he suggests they'll disappear. Genetically, at least, the 
> difference doesn't make a difference: if all males are sterile, they 
> may as well not be there.)
> Sykes even tries to calculate when disaster will strike. He concludes 
> that, given the high rate of mutation on the Y, nearly all men will be 
> almost completely sterile in about 125,000 years. In the meantime, 
> male fertility will steadily fall. Adam's curse is, then, a rather 
> serious affair. Not surprisingly, Sykes suggests some ways to avert 
> this looming disaster. He seems most serious about using 
> biotechnological methods to relocate Y chromosome genes, moving them 
> to kinder, gentler chromosomes, where their continued existence is 
> presumably assured. (Such a transfer is, in principle, possible, 
> though some technical hurdles would have to be cleared.)
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I'm afraid that this is all just silly. There are several related 
> theories of why most genes on the Y chromosome degenerate and none of 
> them predicts that men will become extinct. To see why not, we need to 
> understand why Y chromosomes degenerate in the first place. All 
> theories of Y degeneration (full disclosure: one of them is mine) 
> hinge on an unusual feature of the Y: it doesn't "recombine." Recall 
> that half your chromosomes come from your mother and half from your 
> father. When you make sperm or eggs, each of your chromosomes from 
> your mother pairs up with the corresponding one from your father. 
> During this process, the two chromosomes often swap genetic material, 
> an event called recombination. Consequently, any chromosome entering 
> your sperm or egg likely carries some genes from your mother and 
> others from your father. Oddly, though, the Y doesn't play this game: 
> while all other chromosomes (including the X) recombine, the Y does 
> not.^[2] <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17973#fn2>
> This is important because recombination, it turns out, makes it easy 
> for natural selection to get rid of bad mutations. Put conversely, 
> natural selection is somewhat compromised when dealing with 
> chromosomes that don't recombine. All our theories of population 
> genetics thus predict that the Y will slowly but surely accumulate 
> mutations that have slightly bad effects. But the key point is this: 
> the process I have described will not spiral out of control, yielding 
> sterile or absent men, for two reasons. The first is that the 
> evolutionary forces that cause genes on the Y chromosome to degenerate 
> turn out to be very weak; that's why it's taken hundreds of millions 
> of years for our Y to fall into its current state of disrepair. In 
> contrast, the evolutionary forces that maintain male fertility—and 
> that even maintain a 50:50 ratio of males to females in 
> populations—are very strong. The latter, strong forces, overcome the 
> former, weak ones, and males neither become sterile nor disappear.
> Second, not all genes on the Y chromosome are created equal. Some, 
> indeed the great majority, originally resided on both the Y /and/ X 
> chromosomes. Natural selection will often tolerate loss of this kind 
> of gene from the Y since there's a "backup" copy on the X that can 
> still perform the gene's functions. Other genes, though, now exist 
> /only/ on the Y. Natural selection will most assuredly not tolerate 
> the loss of this kind of gene since no backup copy sits on the X. The 
> critical point is that most of the male fertility genes now residing 
> on the human Y exist only on that chromosome and there's no way that 
> selection will allow their loss.
> Sykes's calculation suggests otherwise because it's wrong. He seems to 
> assume that Y chromosomes carrying mutations that partially sterilize 
> men will get passed on to future generations as often as normal, 
> unmutated chromosomes. But they won't—that's what it means to be 
> partially sterile. This misstep leads Sykes astray. There are simply 
> no sound evolutionary grounds to support his sensational claims of the 
> extinction of men.^[3] <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17973#fn3>
> This is not to say that Y chromosomes can't be lost from a species. 
> They can and sometimes are. But it is to say that the Y can disappear 
> only after it's become dispensable, i.e., only after genetic changes 
> take place that render Y-less males healthy and fertile. Sykes gets 
> this logic backward. Telling the story of a rodent called the mole 
> vole that's lost its Y, he marvels that these lucky voles made the 
> genetic changes needed to avoid male extinction "only just in time" 
> before their Y disappeared. But this is like saying that you got out 
> of your clothes only just in time before they were thrown in the wash. 
> In reality, the later event is contingent on the earlier.
> The bottom line is that Sykes's alarmist talk of the extinction of men 
> is just that—alarmist—and I wouldn't lose too much sleep over the 
> possibility. And I certainly wouldn't give much thought (much less 
> funding) to his technological fix to this nonproblem. There are enough 
> real problems out there.
>       3.
> Talk of sex chromosomes and of single genes that determine sex 
> naturally raises the specter of genetic determinism. Are certain 
> behaviors and thoughts fundamentally male and others essentially 
> female? To just what extent does recent biological research support 
> the notion that genes determine our identity, sexual or otherwise?
> The answer to this question depends entirely on the particular trait 
> or character under discussion. If the character of interest is having 
> testes or not, we are confronted with a biological determinism of the 
> first magnitude. Whether an embryo develops testes depends essentially 
> entirely on its genes; indeed you'd be hard pressed to find anything 
> more genetically hardwired. If this brand of biological determinism 
> alarms you, you are destined to be alarmed.
> But things are considerably less clear if the trait of interest is, 
> say, aggressiveness, or a curiosity about genes. Unfortunately, this 
> (not so subtle) distinction is often lost on Sykes. Sociobiological 
> claims of an almost unbelievably unnuanced sort run throughout /Adam's 
> Curse/. Sykes's chief claim is that the Y chromosome causes its 
> bearers to do crazy things. Sykes tells his readers that men, violent 
> and sex-crazed, are "driven on by the lash of their Y chromosomes," 
> and that the Y has "claimed the power to force us, men and women 
> alike, to submit...to its will." Indeed it soon appears that the Y is 
> legally liable for war, the subjugation of women, and empire building:
>     Driven on and on by the crazed ambition of the Y-chromosome to
>     multiply without limit, wars began to enable men to annex adjacent
>     lands and enslave their women. Nothing must stand in the way of
>     the Y-chromosome. Wars, slavery, empires—all ultimately coalesce
>     on that one mad pursuit. 
> In places Sykes is so overcome by the power of the Y chromosome that 
> he passes from breathless exaggeration to patent absurdity. In a 
> remarkable passage, he argues that Genghis Khan's Y chromosome was so 
> successful that it's hard to know who was in charge:
>     Is the Khan chromosome's achievement owing to the sexual exploits
>     and military conquests of the Mongol emperor? Or was the Great
>     Khan himself driven to success in war, and in bed, by the ambition
>     of his Y chromosome? 
> Since Sykes tells us—and on the previous page—that 16 million men now 
> carry the Khan Y chromosome, the answer seems painfully clear: if the 
> Y is in charge, the world would now have 16 million Genghis Khans on 
> its hands.
> Although Sykes's excesses might be excused as the inevitable hyperbole 
> of a popularizer, their cumulative effect is serious and does, I 
> think, do real damage: it's hard to believe that a biologically naive 
> reader could walk away from /Adam's Curse/ with a sensible view of the 
> connection between genes and behavior.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> In any case, Steve Jones's /Y/ and David Bainbridge's /The X in Sex/ 
> prove that popular books on human genetics—indeed on human sex 
> chromosomes—need not trade in sociobiological excess. Sykes, Jones, 
> and Bainbridge cover much of the same ground —all recount the 
> discovery of SRY, discuss the role of hormones in sexual development, 
> and describe Darwin's theory of sexual selection. But their positions 
> on genetic determinism differ profoundly.
> Jones, professor of genetics at University College, London, and the 
> author of /The Language of Genes/ and /Darwin's Ghost/, offers his 
> latest book as an update of Darwin's 1871 classic /The Descent of 
> Man/. Although Darwin was more of a hereditarian than many 
> evolutionists like to admit, Jones himself turns out to be very 
> cautious about attributing human behavior to genes. While he obviously 
> understands that carrying the Y chromosome or not means that men and 
> women will express at least some different genes, his treatment of the 
> consequences of this difference is far more measured than Sykes's. 
> Indeed Jones is, in places, explicitly anti-sociobiological. He 
> reminds us, for example, that the Y chromosome has all too often 
> served as "a useful alibi for man's excesses" and emphasizes that
>     manhood tells a social tale as much as one written in nucleic
>     acids [DNA] and must, with all that it implies, be constructed.
>     Once the foundations of the male state are laid, what rises from
>     them has little to do with DNA. 
> Such sentiments are all too rarely expressed in popular writing about 
> human evolution or genetics and it is to Jones's credit that his smart 
> and informative book bucks the trend.
> For his part, Bainbridge, a lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College, 
> London, and author of /Making Babies: The Science of Pregnancy/, 
> essentially eschews the entire controversy over evolutionary 
> psychology. He sticks instead to hard science. Although Bainbridge is 
> given to talking about how chromosomes "control our lives" or "become 
> our dictator," he focuses almost entirely on the role of chromosomes 
> in human disease, not in human cognition, emotion, or behavior. And 
> when it comes to disease, there is, of course, little doubt that 
> chromosomes do often control our lives.
> Bainbridge's book is largely devoted to the X chromosome, not the Y. 
> He spends much of his time on "sex-linked" conditions that affect men 
> more than women; these range from annoyances like baldness to 
> devastating diseases like muscular dystrophy.^[4] 
> <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17973#fn4> Bainbridge also devotes 
> many fascinating pages to complex ailments like autoimmune disease 
> that, for reasons which remain unclear, disproportionately afflict 
> women. (Hashimoto's thyroiditis, for instance—a leading cause of 
> underactive thyroids—affects fifty times more women than men.)
> But Bainbridge's chief concern is with the biology of human sex 
> determination and with the many ways in which it can, and does, go 
> wrong. In the end, his message is that while human beings obviously 
> come in two predominant sexes, both cultural and biological forces 
> give rise to a surprisingly "continuous spectrum of gender." While 
> Bainbridge makes it fairly clear that he wouldn't be surprised if 
> genes sometimes cause men and women to act or think differently, he's 
> largely silent about the nature and extent of any such differences. 
> While it's hard to know for sure, I suspect that this silence reflects 
> the cautious neutrality of a sensible scientist confronted with mixed 
> data and mountains of speculation.
> For the truth is, of course, that we have little idea how much of the 
> variation in human behavior—whether between the sexes or within 
> them—is caused by genes. While I could defend this claim by pointing 
> to a body of technical literature filled with conflicting assertions 
> about the heritability of human behavior, there's no need for such a 
> thing. The same point is made (albeit inadvertently) by the three 
> books under review. Although all are written by smart male British 
> biologists who read essentially the same scientific literature and who 
> live and work within a hundred miles of each other, their views on the 
> role of genes in human behavior are widely divergent, ranging from 
> enthusiastic endorsement to considerable skepticism to apparent 
> neutrality. This lack of consensus speaks for itself.
>           Notes
> ^[1] <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17973#fnr1> See Claudia Dreifus, 
> "Is Genghis Khan an Ancestor? Mr. DNA Knows," /The New York Times/, 
> June 8, 2004. See also Bryan Sykes, "Do We Need Men?" /The Guardian/, 
> August 28, 2003.
> ^[2] <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17973#fnr2> This is almost, but 
> not exactly, true. Tiny regions of the Y do in fact recombine with the 
> X. I ignore these "pseudoautosomal regions" here, as they make up a 
> small part of the Y chromosome and play no role in what follows.
> ^[3] <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17973#fnr3> For a review of how 
> and why Y chromosomes fall apart, see B. Charlesworth and D. 
> Charlesworth, "The Degeneration of Y Chromosomes," /Pro-ceedings of 
> the Royal Society of London/, Vol. 355 (2000), pp. 1563–1572.
> ^[4] <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17973#fnr4> Because mutations on 
> the X chromosome, not the Y, cause these conditions, it might not be 
> obvious why they typically affect men, not women. The reason is that 
> women, who carry two X chromosomes, can partly "mask" the effects of a 
> mutated X with their other (and usually unmutated) X chromosome. Men, 
> who have a single X, can't mask mutations in this way.
> This explanation, however, gets complicated in two ways. First, women 
> randomly "inactivate" (turn off) one of their X chromosomes within 
> each of their cells. So women mask the bad effects of mutated X 
> chromosomes partly because those cells that happen to leave the good X 
> turned on can "cover" for those cells that leave the bad X turned on. 
> Second, recent work shows that this traditional account is somewhat 
> incomplete. It turns out that, while /most/ of the genes on one of a 
> woman's X's are turned off, 15 percent are not. The result is that 
> women, within their cells, express two copies of these X chromosomal 
> genes while men express one. (See L. Carrell and H.F. Willard, 
> "X-Inactivation Profile Reveals Extensive Variability in X-Linked Gene 
> Expression in Females," /Nature/, Vol. 434, 2005, pp. 400–404.)
> ********************************************************************************************
> Once again, for some reason I don't understand, several people have 
> sent emails that I have absolutely not received. So, if you have sent 
> me an email to which I have not responded at all after an appropriate 
> time (I usually respond within several days but sometimes minutes!), 
> there's a good chance I didn't receive it; and you might want to send 
> again!
> Thanks!
> Alice Andrews
> Department of Psychology
> State University of New York at New Paltz
> 75 S. Manheim Blvd
> New Paltz, NY 12561
> 845.257.3602
> andrewsa at newpaltz.edu <mailto:andrewsa at newpaltz.edu>
> www.newpaltz.edu/~andrewsa <http://www.newpaltz.edu/%7Eandrewsa>
> www.entelechyjournal.com <http://www.entelechyjournal.com>
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