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Ethics of Clones


Kenneth S. Kang

College Writing 108b

Mr. Kubiak

April 8, 1998

This essay examines implications of cloning. It attempts to cover most aspects of the recently developed cloning technique, somatic cell nuclear transfer, but it does not claim to be unbiased or exhaustive in its coverage of cloning. First, the reader will find a historical context. After a segment on recombinant DNA technology, the essay explores the principles behind the experiment that produced Dolly. Subsequently, an exposé of arguments against cloning precedes an overview on the ethics of human cloning. Finally the essay move onto the reasons and potentials for cloning.

Cloning, the ability to duplicate, creates many dilemmas. A somewhat analogous evolution occurred with the development of the printing press, photocopier, and computers. Similar development of cloning technology has occurred in the field of biology and its immediate industries. With the developments of significantly more powerful techniques such as recombinant DNA and nuclear transfer, the possibilities of cloning and copying living organisms are expanding. The creation of Dolly, an ewe cloned from skin cells shocked the world. Despite significant unknowns and innumerable ethical issues, science should continue investigations into non-human cloning because the potentials for an improved understanding of nature outweighs the unproven risks.

The history of cloning underscores the mundane uses of cloning technology, including plants, bacteria and cattle. Clones result naturally when a zygote, or fertilized egg, somehow splits resulting in identical twins (Gorman "Ban"). In less haphazard manner, the farmers started using cloning to produce identical fruit and vegetables (McKinnell 12). Cloning one specific plant created consistency and retained the desirable qualities for the plant. The artificial cloning of animals seemed a bit more distant at that point in time. Only with the development of micromanipulators and cell-scale micropipettes in 1932 artificial clones became possible (McKinnell 30). Thus researchers had the tools to extract the nucleus of a cell and transplant it into another cell that had its nucleus destroyed. In 1952, researchers managed to clone frogs (Travis "Fantastic" 214). Since then, several experiments on mice demonstrated that transferred embryonic nuclei creates clones with success rates from 3.7 to 16% (McKinnell 87). Experiments continued, devising procedures for harvesting ova, or eggs, from other species including humans. In 1993, researchers at George Washington University cloned human embryos but did not implant them (Begley "Little" 54-55). Despite scientist's proficiency with cloning from embryonic and fetal cells, cloning from an adult cell remained illusive - many thought it impossible.

In 1973, demonstrating a different but equally impossible feat, Cohen and Bayer developed technology for placing foreign DNA into bacteria, causing a public outcry encouraging restrictions on the potentially dangerous technology (McAuliffe 21). The public feared that some bacteria would become dangerous as a result of DNA from other species. The fear overran the American populace, causing general opposition to science. Nossal analyses the fear of science:

Basically, the opposition to major technological change, and thus indirectly science ... there is a tendency for people to fear the unknown, to resist to change, to preserve comfortable preconceptions, to resent new circumstances not of their own making. (Nossal 119)

Some saw it as a threat to humankind (Wallace "Dolly" 55). They feared that human interference would create bacteria which would overrun the world. Cherfas paraphrases Jonathan King of MIT: "it is not the engineers themselves who pose the dangers but the application of their discoveries" (Cherfas 141).

At the Gordon Conference of 1973, the controversy surrounding recombinant DNA technology demanded a more cautious approach in scientific research (Cherfas 129). The scientists at the Asilomar Conference had already drafted their own code of ethics (Cherfas 130), including measures such as crippling the bacteria and delaying more dangerous experiments (Cherfas 131). Crippling bacteria would prevent any engineered bacteria from surviving outside the laboratory. Despite the self-imposed restrictions, some scientists broke from the regulations. In 1981, Marty Cline "broke the guidelines by performing experiments with recombinant vectors on human patients" (Cherfas 136). In 1980, a graduate student in the lab discovered that Samuel Ian Kennedy had cloned the Sindbis virus, a violation of the regulations adopted by scientists (Cherfas 135). The code of ethics created by the scientists, although it had its share of violations, effectively restrained recombinant DNA technology. Similar techniques may be applied for cloning with added protection for the handling of human embryos.

With added knowledge of the possibilities and limitations of recombinant DNA technology, communities and the scientific world slowly removed restrictions. When research did not demonstrate any outstanding hazard, the scientific community eased their regulations (Cherfas 124). Still fearing some aspects of biotechnology, localities, such as Cambridge, Massachusetts, imposed their own moratoria on recombinant DNA research (Nossal 117). In retrospect, recombinant DNA could have saved the life of Janet Parker, a photographic technician at Birmingham University's smallpox lab (Cherfas 138). By allowing researchers and technicians to work with fragments of viruses instead of live ones, recombinant DNA technology makes laboratories safer. Today, even with restrictions lifted, laboratories face a battery of existing lab rules, funding committees, and ethics committees (Nossal 123). Without permanent bans, researchers can choose the technique that ensures the highest rate of success with the greatest safety. Cloning potentially offers similar techniques that will increase rates of success.

With restrictions greatly eased, businesses began to look more carefully at recombinant DNA technology. First, in 1972, General Electric patented a bacterium, Pseudomona, thus opening the flood gates open to the commercialization of biotechnology, especially since the US courts upheld the ability to patent living organisms (Cherfas 197-198). Writing in the 1980s, Sharp includes a table which outlines industries such as chemical, fuel, oil, pharmaceutical, and waste management that could benefit from biotechnology (Sharp 167-170). Today, companies like Genentech, Cetus, and Celltech actively develop products in the field of biotechnology using recombinant DNA. With researchers from the biotech companies joining with universities, companies explored ideas of transforming, placing foreign DNA in a host, larger animals like cows. In pursuit of ways to develop new products and to improve old ones, research institutions like the Roslin Institute attempted to find better methods to place foreign DNA into sheep so that the animals would excrete useful proteins in their milk. In one experiment, a clone from an adult cell resulted.

On February 24, 1997, the announcement of Roslin Institute of Edinburgh's Dolly, a sheep cloned from her mother's nuclear DNA, shocked the world (Clinton Letter). As early as 1938, Spearman conjectured that scientists could clone animals by transplanting the nucleus of a cell (Travis "Fantastic" 214). As mentioned before, scientists, using nuclear transfer, cloned mice and frogs from embryonic and fetal cells. The researcher, Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute, attempted to resolve the last remaining problem when cloning from adult cells. The cells of an adult animal have specialized and perform specific tasks. Despite the opinion that specialization occurs irreversibly, Wilmut pursued methods of countering the specialization. Developing the technique in secret because the possibility of failure (Nash "Age" 65), Wilmut starved the adult cells, forcing them into a dormant state (Travis "Fantastic" 214; Wilmut 810). Cells normally pass stages in which they replicate their DNA, perform their designated task, divide and repeat. Wilmut wanted to stop the cycle so that he could remove the nucleus and place it into an enucleated egg, an egg which had its nucleus destroyed or removed. Treating cells from the skin, embryo, and fetus, Wilmut fused them with enucleated ova then monitored their development (Wilmut 811-813). Most of the 277 fused embryos from the somatic cells, or adult-derived cells, failed to show signs of development at the earliest stages of life. Researchers implanted in ewes the twenty-nine surviving embryos from the 277 somatic cells derived embryos (Wilmut 811). The experiment mimics the procedure used for in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF starts with sperm and egg on a lab dish. The technician injects the sperm into the egg. Labs monitor the resulting embryo's development, then implants it into the uterus. Copying IVF, Wilmut implanted the successful blastulas into the uterus and monitored the pregnancies through ultrasound (Wilmut 811). His experiment produced Dolly and seven other ewes (Wilmut 811). Wilmut has shown that the somatic cell nuclear transfer works. Critiques speculate that the experiment produced Dolly from a previous pregnancy (Nash "Was"), but DNA evidence proves otherwise (Uehling 75; Wilmut 811). The researchers at Roslin Institute will watch Dolly and the other clones progress into adulthood (Wilmut 812).

As with any new technique, the cloning procedure that created Dolly has its limitations. Wilmut's one experiment only shows the possibility of cloning from adult cells. Further research could add information about Wilmut's initial discovery. The current failure rates imply that breeding animals is more efficient than cloning (Begley "Little" 56). The labor intensive technique, requiring 277 fused embryos and possibly taken 6000, renders producing the clones in any great quantity for farming animals infeasible (Beardsley "Cloning"; Nash "Was"). In an attempt to duplicate the technique used by Wilmut, researchers at the University of Massachusetts have conducted experiments with calves, so far resulting in hundreds of unsuccessful attempts (Nash "Was"). Because of the lower success rate with adult cells, most cloning uses fetal or embryonic cell nuclear transfer (Wilmut 811). For example, Oregon Regional Primate Research cloned two monkeys from embryonic cells (Travis "Two"). In Wilmut's experiment, embryonic cells showed a higher rate of success than the somatic cells (Wilmut 811). Even with increased successes with embryonic cells, McAuliffe states that IVF presents problems for all species (McAuliffe 135). The already slim chances that a blastula will result from the DNA of an adult cell become slimmer as the IVF implantation procedure can fail. After cloning several animals that produce medical products, Wilmut plans to breed the cloned sheep (Begley "Little" 56). Current failure rates keep cloning from routine usage, at least until the procedure has a greater success rate. Somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning creates the opportunity to investigate the development of life and allows investigations into the process by which embryos develop into full grown adults. Scientists can apply the technique to research.

Further investigation may answer the many questions remain about the cloning procedure. Wilmut does not know the subtleties of the procedure such as "the optimum cell-cycle stage" of the ovum (Wilmut 812), or in plain English, the timing. Kolata mentions a lack of safety information about the technique (Kolata). Only with more attempts at cloning can scientists ascertain the exact extent of the risks. Current clones tend to develop into oversized fetuses (Weiss). Further research may illuminate the exact mechanism for the difference between the naturally conceived fetus and a cloned one. Cloning would benefit research that investigates differences in the DNA, especially between adults and developing animals. The DNA of the energy producing mitochondria comes from the enucleated ova, and not the cell which donated the nucleus (Beardsley "Start" 16; "Whatever" 80); thus some incompatibility may exist in the combination of the nucleus and the egg. Furthermore, the DNA from the donor could have some mutations or differences that could impede its growth ("Whatever" 80). Potential to improve the somatic cell nuclear transfer procedure cloning pose little additional ethic dilemmas which ethicists have already debated when researchers first began using ova and embryos for research (Shapiro 195). With funding and lab regulations, cloning animals for research would not present many ethical problems and would potentially allow significant gains.

Because of the recent development of the procedure, uncertainty over who and how many labs could perform the somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning remains. Some estimate that most skilled lab technicians could perform the cloning demonstrated by Wilmut (Nash "Age" 62). Begley mentions W. Bruce Currie's conservative estimate of ten labs in her Newsweek article, "Little Lamb, Who Made Thee?" (Begley "Little" 55). Even Scientific American's Beardsley states that anyone with the desire could find the equipment needed to clone animals "in most biology laboratories" (Beardsley "Clone"). So many estimates have surfaced that no one knows exactly how many labs can duplicate the cloning that Wilmut accomplished (NBAC 98). Only when researchers attempt to repeat and improve upon Wilmut's technique will scientists understand the intricacy or the simplicity of cloning. Others, considering the lack of knowledge on cloning, begin to consider potential evils in cloning.

Cloning faces widespread opposition despite its history and potentials for basic research. Science fiction treated cloning as a bad science (Wallace "Dolly" 58), causing significant portion of the population to oppose the cloning of animals ("Clone"). The Church of Scotland's Science, Religion, and Technology (SRT) Project similarly finds that cloning is unnatural and threatens genetic diversity ("Should We Clone"). Because the capability to clone places enormous power on human hands, the Church of Scotland's General Assembly came to the consensus that neither biotech companies nor researchers should routinely perform human or animal cloning ("1997"). Even with the potential for cloned animals to speed the development of medical products, some find the use of domestic animals for research cruel (Wallace "Dolly" 55). Animal rights activists, like Britain's Animal Liberation Front, find the idea of cloning animals appalling (Wallace "Dolly" 59), especially since some attempts at cloning animals have resulted in malformed creatures (Uehling 75). With the belief that scientists overlook ethics ( "Cloning"), coupled with negative reactions toward genetically modified foods (Wallace "Dolly" 59), many people fear cloning because of the unknown dangers cloning presents ("Fear"). Others find earlier technology such as IVF more dangerous (Kolata). Cloning, a new and unexplored technology, only naturally brings some frightening aspects as well as potential for new revolutionary developments that improve the quality of life. Naturally, new discoveries which seem to threaten society's values instill some fear.

Cloning presents a significant moral and cultural dilemma if and when human cloning becomes feasible (Fitzgerald). Reproductive freedoms and the pursuit of better health conflict with the inevitable social dilemmas, enumerated by the National Bioethics Advisory Council (NBAC): human embryo research, child rearing, individuality, eugenics, and parenting (NBAC ii).

The argument for human cloning presents important principles of reproductive rights, individuality, and overarching development of society. Arguments for cloning often mention, somewhat ominously, the inevitability of cloning of a human (Carlin 114; Begley "Little" 59; Woodward). Human cloning would logically result in some sort of eventual change in cultural and moral values. Some would also argue that if we equate humanness with uniqueness, then identical twins should lose humanness (Callahan "Are"). To make any claims of similarities or shared experiences between the clone and the donor makes little sense, as most members of our culture share similar experiences just as we, within the respective sexes, share 99.9% of our DNA (Wright "Can"). In response to cloning's potential to increase eugenics, Macklin replies that one could consider sperm banks as potential for sites for eugenics because a woman can pick her sperm (Macklin). More commonly, articles note the common misconception that personality of a donor necessarily transfers to a clone (Wright "Can"). For humans, the case against cloning eclipse the arguments for it.

The debate over human cloning has mostly centered on the possible consequences with the assumption that cloning humans will become possible. The National Bioethics Advisory Commission made a through assessment of the ethical implications of somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning on humans and firmly rejected the procedure because scientists have little safety information (Shapiro 196). McKinnell asks whether society would benefit from allocating resources to real hazards like smoking rather than devoting time and funds to cloning (McKinnell 104-106). The following paragraphs outline ethical discussions about the procedure, definitions of illness, and the social consequences of cloning.

The procedures used in Wilmut's somatic cell nuclear transfer technique present important, ethical dilemmas in researching with embryos. The cloning could introduce interesting issues especially with pro-life supporters (Gorman "Ban"). Because some techniques require sperm to fertilize the egg and subsequent removal of the nucleus (McKinnell 99), McKinnell considers the enucleation, or removal of the nucleus, tantamount to abortion of a fetus (McKinnell 103). Wilmut's procedure for cloning from adult cells does not use the fertilize and enucleation technique (Wilmut 812). To apply somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning to humans requires that technicians retrieve eggs using a procedure with a 90% success rate (McKinnell 97). Since the procedure has no medical benefit or purpose, McKinnell personally opposes the use of medical procedures to harvest eggs for clonings (McKinnell 102). Because researchers currently do not know the risk of various complications, the clone may die sooner than a normally conceived child (Herbert 60). The manipulation of human embryos and ova, already done with the IVF procedures, industrializes human procreation. With cloning, humans will finally become products of industry (Kluger 70; Woodward). Beyond the ethics of harvesting eggs and creating the clone, questions regarding ethical applications of cloning arise.

The definition of illness often determines whether one can justify cloning or not. Religions often differ in their analysis of cloning because of their perceptions of illness. Judaism considers infertility a disease and thus allows modern fertility treatments (NBAC 55). However, Catholics and Protestants find cloning for procreation difficult to justify (NBAC 55). Similarly, in the event of a fatal illness, Protestants favor cloning while Catholics still oppose it (NBAC 55). The ability to pursue better health places the individual's well-being against the values of human life and individuality of the society. Religion must rework itself as cloning changes the ideas of the maker (NBAC 49). Somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning has the potential to allow new treatments for medicine, but it poses many new challenges for communities as they must decide where the difference lies between an illness or handicap and mild inconveniences. Yet, until researchers devise techniques for apply the hypothesized treatments, they will remain mere hypotheses. Cloning presents a future threat, but not an immediate one, to society's definitions of disease.

Also, many fear cloning may rekindle the pursuit of eugenics. A writer for The Economist comments that dictators do not need cloning to accomplish selection of individuals for mating ("Hello" 17). The debate focuses on definitions of illness and other "good" uses of cloning because society makes the determination of good or bad and the difference between disease and obsession with health (Kluger 71; Lebacqz 25). To arguments that genes do not control personality, Begley claims that genes may create certain predispositions (Begley "Little" 57). The ultimate power resting in the hands of people who must make decisions about technology (NBAC 48). Technology for duplicating works such as the Bible dramatically change the world; technology for cloning presents a similar chance for a paradigm shift. The debates and the exploration of society's assumptions about individual identity can help us understand ourselves.

If cloning became a reality, the social values of families and parenting will cause great change in our culture. The cloned child would forfeit the conception of uniqueness (NBAC 66). The existence of a cloned child would also redefine the role of sex and the human family (Mautner). The idea of the family would change as the requirements for having children would evolve from man and woman to one woman (Herbert 61; Nash "Age" 64). The implications of raising a clone also pose problems (Kilner 11). Family bonds would change significantly (Marshall "Clinton"; Shapiro 195). If human clones become feasible, society must consider the potential for clones to become status symbols for the rich who can afford to perform the procedure (Harris). Harris also comments that administrators must add regulations governing clones in schools, professional sports, and divorce (Harris). Clones of one athlete could form an absurd professional sports team. A divorce settlement may consider cloning a second copy of the biological children. For now, the risks and the unknowns pose too many unanswerable questions to attempt to clone humans (Shapiro 196). Barry Came, quoting two words from psychologist Charles Crawford, sums our reactions: "human beings are 'psychologically unprepared'" for cloning (qtd. in Came).The lack of knowledge of the procedure of cloning drives the key point in most objections (Travis "Fantastic" 215). Despite some of the many cases against human cloning, some maverick individuals wish to pursue cloning.

Despite the enormous unknowns and significant ethical objections, some overly exuberant individuals seek to clone humans. Richard Seed claims that with two months of research, enough information on cloning would exist to duplicate humans (Kyriakidou). Similarly, Randolfe Wicker, a cloning rights activist, wishes to find a scientist who will to help him clone himself (Callahan "Are" 6). Within weeks of Wilmut's announcement of Dolly, Valiant Ventures announced their intent to build a human cloning lab (Beardsley "Start" 15-16), despite the need to license technology from the Roslin Institute which created the first somatic cell nuclear transfer clone (Begley "Spring" 83). Some estimate that the cost of cloning a human would range up to $200,000 (Begley "Spring" 83). With our current knowledge of cloning, it seems remote that any human clone would result. Further research with animals and transgenic animals could reveal additional information about cloning other species like humans.

In the case for cloning, animals poses significantly fewer ethical dilemmas. The agriculture industry has used cloning, in its various forms, for ages. More recently, the technique of splitting embryos to produce copies of one individual became prevalent in the cattle industry ("Should We Clone"). European nations find with consideration for the welfare of the animals and genetic diversity, no significant ethical impasses with cloning in research ("Biotechnology"); yet the European commission drew the line and found human cloning under any circumstance unjustified ("Biotechnology"). Nonetheless, the Church of Scotland has the opinion that the production of drugs and other medical materials may justify cloning ("Should We Clone"). With potential medical benefits, cloning animals, although somewhat unsettling, promises to some gains.

Most supporters of cloning feel that the public misunderstands the true nature and capabilities of somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning. Wilmut feels that the media and other scientists have caused the public to overreact to cloning (Wallace "Dolly" 56). Comparing clones to those in literature and film, Johnson finds that some articles have exaggerated the threat of clones (Johnson 56). Yet others point to the news media for showing only the fantastic aspects of technology (Hutton 221). An "Fear of Cloning" speculates that non-scientists mainly fear cloning ("Fear"). The NBAC finds that most people misunderstand cloning (NBAC 2) and recommends continued education to augment the general knowledge of cloning (Shapiro 196). With time, as public comprehension grows and becomes accustomed to the wave of new drugs that come from cloned animals, scientists can explore other areas of cloning for potential breakthroughs. If researchers can attain goals to develop medical products, the public support of cloning will increase from less than 48% to over 70% ("Clone").

Great potential exists for cloning as a research tool. The NBAC lists cell differentiation research, documentation on genes, and transgenic animals for organ and protein production as potential areas where somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning could make significant contributions (NBAC 24, 26). Clones offer the perfect test subjects for gene testing because they can consistently be reproduced with the same genes. Because scientists isolate single celled clones during the nuclear transfer, transgenic research can benefit from nuclear transfer cloning. Transgenic products take DNA from one species, give it to another which will duplicate the product en masse, and harvest the desired products, often proteins or hormones. The established transgenic industry will benefit from cloning as cloning can speed products development (Wallace "Dolly" 57). Animals created by cloning definitely have the properly inserted gene. Using normal breeding techniques with longer animal pregnancies slows down the development of transgenic drugs. It would also help genetic engineering especially the engineering of transgenic farm animals (Nash "Age" 65). Unfortunately, the optimists face odds of one out of ten transgenic farm animals producing commercially viable quantities of proteins (Reibstein). Using a fetal cell cloning technique (Infigen), ABS Global and its subsidiary, Infigen, have announced the intent to pursue cloning research in the "cattle breeding, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and xenotransplantation fields" (qtd. in Beardsley "Cloning"). In the cloning debate, policy makers should not overlook the immediate potential for transgenic animals to accelerate development significant medical products.

The applications and results of transgenic animals can already be seen. Using embryo cell nuclear transfer and genetic engineering at the early embryo stage, scientists can insert genes that allow animals to produce commercially significant quantities of medicinal proteins or hormones. Recombinant DNA technology, the first transgenic technology, developed artificial insulin and human growth hormone. Cloning could increase efficiency and produce medically substantial products ("1997"). Rather than depending on bacteria, larger mammals may produce the product more efficiently. Microscopic cellular technology could modify one of the embryos to produces proteins for the treatment of cystic fibrosis in the mammal's milk (Travis "Fantastic" 215). Wilmut originally designed his experiment to explore techniques for inserting protein genes into farm animals (Begley "Little" 56). The industry, dubbed "Pharming" (Felder), already possesses initial transgenic clones like Polly ("UK's"). The technology that Wilmut pioneered has many potential applications including expediting the production of blood clotting factors for hemophiliacs (Reaney). Transfusions of blood have proven problematic for hemophiliacs who merely lack one or two proteins in their blood. Transgenics would allow production of the protein without as much concern over human diseases. With the similarities between metabolisms, the use of animals to produce proteins makes economic if not medical sense. Allowing cloning to speed the research and development of medical products presents one of the most cogent cases for continued research into somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Congress and other government bodies have yet to debate or write significant legislation governing cloning and its impact on our society. The NBAC report on human cloning underlines that existing laws do not resolve the dilemma between the right to procreate and the dangers of cloning (NBAC 3). Furthermore, the laws are vague (NBAC 3), thus presenting problems with varying interpretations. Consistency across the nation with any such law should stop biotechnology firms from seeking regions that have economically favorable regulations (NBAC 100). In Europe, most countries have already banned cloning and 19 have signed an anti-cloning treaty (Came; Nash "Case"). The UK has effectively banned human cloning with their Human Fertilization and Embryo Act of 1990 ("Should We Use"). The US has several bills (HR922, HR923, S368) which attempt to ban funding, human cell cloning, and the somatic cell nuclear transfer technique on human cells (Marshall "Mammalian"). The NBAC suggests that the ban focus on the implantation of cloned embryos (Seppa "Clinton"). With science continually developing, policy makers must create a balance between science and society's fears.

The brief overview presented above only begins to expose the controversy, misunderstandings, and realities about cloning in the biotechnology industry. Although Dolly shocked many people around the world, the prevalence of cloning ranging from plants to cattle should serve as a reminder that the ability to clone and to copy has aided researchers as well as farmers who, with cloning, produce uniform and consistent crops. Similarly, the new "pharmers" stand to benefit from cloning which could speed new transgenic treatments to the market. To ban all cloning, or even just somatic cell nuclear cloning, without understanding what industry and researchers already clone regularly, stops investigation of potentially useful science. Cloning may allow basic research that would have widespread applications including cancer, transplant organ cloning, retardation of the aging process, and other applications that we could never dream of. Wilmut's somatic cell nuclear transfer technique does not answer human cloning, transplant organ cloning, retardation of the aging process, and cancer. Dolly just opened a world of possibilities.

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