Scientists find quantum mechanics at work in photosynthesis

Feb 03, 2010 By Sean Bettam
Cryptophye algae from the ocean (species Rhodomonas). Image credit: University of Toronto

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of University of Toronto chemists have made a major contribution to the emerging field of quantum biology, observing quantum mechanics at work in photosynthesis in marine algae.

"There's been a lot of excitement and speculation that nature may be using quantum mechanical practices," says chemistry professor Greg Scholes, lead author of a new study published this week in Nature. "Our latest experiments show that normally functioning biological systems have the capacity to use in order to optimize a process as essential to their survival as ."

Special proteins called light-harvesting complexes are used in photosynthesis to capture sunlight and funnel its energy to nature's - other proteins known as reaction centres. Scholes and his colleagues isolated light-harvesting complexes from two different species of and studied their function under natural temperature conditions using a sophisticated laser experiment known as two-dimensional electronic spectroscopy.

"We stimulated the proteins with femtosecond laser pulses to mimic the absorption of sunlight," explains Scholes. "This enabled us to monitor the subsequent processes, including the movement of energy between special molecules bound in the protein, against a stop-clock. We were astonished to find clear evidence of long-lived quantum mechanical states involved in moving the energy. Our result suggests that the energy of absorbed light resides in two places at once - a state, or coherence - and such a state lies at the heart of quantum mechanical theory."

"This and other recent discoveries have captured the attention of researchers for several reasons," says Scholes. "First, it means that quantum mechanical probability laws can prevail over the classical laws of kinetics in this complex , even at normal temperatures. The energy can thereby flow efficiently by—counter intuitively—traversing several alternative paths through the antenna proteins simultaneously. It also raises some other potentially fascinating questions, such as, have these organisms developed quantum-mechanical strategies for light-harvesting to gain an evolutionary advantage? It suggests that algae knew about quantum mechanics nearly two billion years before humans," says Scholes.

Explore further: Physicists design quantum switches which can be activated by single photons

More information: The findings are presented in a paper titled "Coherently wired light-harvesting in photosynthetic marine algae at ambient temperature", to be published February 4 in Nature.

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superhuman
4.5 / 5 (11) Feb 03, 2010
Of course Nature takes advantage of quantum mechanics!

Nature has been researching life for billions of years in an untold number of biochemical reactors, all squarely in the quantum realm. I expect it to not only take advantage of QM but to transcend QM and use mechanism which we don't even think exist yet.
Bitbull
1.6 / 5 (13) Feb 03, 2010
"Nature" is casually credited with the ability to gather experiences, deduce and optimize system using concepts we barely understand, and implement design changes that require manipulations of all manner of energies, particles and atomic structures we just now are beginning to discern. Yet we dare NOT call it God! So, what's the big deal? There is obviously conscious intervention here, and systematic interactions at all levels, from subatomic to galactic, and beyond! The biochemistry involved in even a tiny evolutionary change, is mind-boggling! That these plants and animals are bringing about these changes themselves, is RIDICULOUS!!!
We are space virus', living on a spec of space dust; But, with the arrogance to make sweeping statements as to the Universe, and declaring God is not its cause.
If there is a Divine sense of humor, this has to have Him "rolling in the isles"!
michaelick
4.5 / 5 (8) Feb 03, 2010
It's just evolution. If these quantum effects are an evolutionary advantage for the plants, they use it. This is no surprise. Nature doesn't have to think whether the theory is complicated or not.
seneca
4 / 5 (2) Feb 03, 2010
The question rather is, why quantum mechanics shouldn't apply at the molecular level...?
Bitbull
1 / 5 (7) Feb 03, 2010
"they use it"??? Just sweep aside the recognition of potential upgrading, the analysis of available options to secure a better niche, and the implementation of appropriate changes necessary??? If a non-scientific person talked this way, they would be shunned and or attacked!
Not a very scientific approach, do you think?
fuzz54
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 03, 2010
"Nature" is casually credited with the ability to gather experiences, deduce and optimize system using concepts we barely understand, and implement design changes that require manipulations of all manner of energies, particles and atomic structures we just now are beginning to discern. Yet we dare NOT call it God!
"Nature" is a system of particles that arrange themselves to form patterns in some cases. The fact that these patterns can be complex does not imply God. The concept of God is self informed and stating that it is implied by anything is circular logic.
Auxon
1 / 5 (3) Feb 03, 2010
Of course Nature takes advantage of quantum mechanics!

Nature has been researching life for billions of years in an untold number of biochemical reactors, all squarely in the quantum realm. I expect it to not only take advantage of QM but to transcend QM and use mechanism which we don't even think exist yet.


Validation of theories by experiment is just as important as new theories. Sounds to me like you overvalue theory relative to practice, since you dismiss the results of experimentation as having added no value.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (3) Feb 03, 2010
@Bitbull,

Just sweep aside the recognition of potential upgrading, the analysis of available options to secure a better niche, and the implementation of appropriate changes necessary???

That's how intelligent designers work. It's not how evolution works. Evolution works by a scattershot trial-and-error approach: randomly generate trillions of variants, most of which won't survive; the ones that survive, may be better or worse than the original; the ones that are better, "win" and possibly replace the original. Rinse, repeat.

(Actually, for single-celled organisms populating an entire planet, "trillions" of variants is probably quite an understatement, even over the course of 1 single year.)
winthrom
5 / 5 (4) Feb 04, 2010
PinkElephant has said it, I concur. "If all the monkeys in the world played on all the Keyboards in the world they would eventually write all the literature, and nonsense ever created or ever will be created." If a computer read all this stuff, and filtered out only strings of real words that followed real language syntax and disposed of the rest, much "literature would be found, but no one would call the author God.
Auxon
5 / 5 (1) Feb 04, 2010
I don't know how intelligent design got into the conversation.

The way I see it it's just as likely that our universe is one of nearly infinite simulations, or like unto such, in fact there isn't really much difference between that concept and the multiverse interpretation of quantum mechanics, the only difference being that the simulation concept expects some kind of higher dimensional being existing outside of the simulation. Also, in the case of a simulation, the universe could be designed and redesigned at any point in time without our knowledge. The age of the universe would be indeterminate for any being occupying a computer simulation, one could only calculate a perceived time. There would never be a way to know. Or ... maybe there is. It's up for debate if it's possible to prove whether or not there is/are higher intelligence(s).
nevdka
5 / 5 (3) Feb 04, 2010
Being able to monitor these sort of biological processes is an incredible achievement. Plants are optimized for a specific purpose (it doesn't matter if it's ID or evolution) and the more we learn about how they work on such a fundamental level, the more we should be able to create optimized processes of our own.

Water + CO2 + sunlight + quantum mechanics = food, plastics and oil, hopefully without screwing up the environment much further.
Auxon
not rated yet Feb 04, 2010
I came across a Wired article on the topic, it has more information http://www.wired....thesis/.

The article also links to other articles that are very interesting ... one on scent and the other on bird's ability to see magnetic fields....
Auxon
not rated yet Feb 04, 2010
"Nature" is casually credited with the ability to gather experiences, deduce and optimize system using concepts we barely understand, and implement design changes that require manipulations of all manner of energies, particles and atomic structures we just now are beginning to discern. Yet we dare NOT call it God!


If you are referring in particular to the quote:

"It also raises some other potentially fascinating questions, such as, have these organisms developed quantum-mechanical strategies for light-harvesting to gain an evolutionary advantage? It suggests that algae knew about quantum mechanics nearly two billion years before humans," says Scholes.

Then I'd have to agree that's pretty rediculous but I don't think he means that literally ... I hope not. ;)
Husky
1 / 5 (3) Feb 04, 2010
the simpsons already did it
Bitbull
1 / 5 (1) Feb 04, 2010
I'm just saying, lets be more perspicacious. Our vantage point is tiny, with abilities to match. I get a little crazy reading posts, and even watching Discovery, where they incessantly speak as though butterflies are designing their wing patterns, and complex systems,(like the eustation tube(sp?) mysteriously appears within the ear,(not accidently in the eye or lung) via a helter-skelter process! That these systems appear in so many species, seems to suggest, if not a design, certainly a learning/retentative process. Happy accidents leave large trails of failures... where are they?
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (1) Feb 04, 2010
That these systems appear in so many species, seems to suggest, if not a design, certainly a learning/retentative process.


"Learning" is successful survival and procreation. "Retention" is due to persistent structural changes to heritable features: nuclear DNA, and certain symbiotic organelles such as mitochondria.

Happy accidents leave large trails of failures... where are they?


Dead.

For microscopic organisms, the failed variants don't leave much of a detectable trail at all.

For higher organisms, most of the "unhappy accidents" don't survive gestation. But even after birth, you're still not off the hook, until you survive through to adulthood, get yourself a mate, and produce viable offspring of your own.

Most of the failed attempts leave no trace: they are totally consumed, as food, by other organisms, and the remains are destroyed by chemistry and erosion. Very few things fossilize, and odds heavily favor samples from the large and successful populations.
fuzz54
4 / 5 (1) Feb 04, 2010
I'm just saying, lets be more perspicacious. Our vantage point is tiny, with abilities to match. I get a little crazy reading posts, and even watching Discovery, where they incessantly speak as though butterflies are designing their wing patterns, and complex systems,(like the eustation tube(sp?) mysteriously appears within the ear,(not accidently in the eye or lung) via a helter-skelter process! That these systems appear in so many species, seems to suggest, if not a design, certainly a learning/retentative process. Happy accidents leave large trails of failures... where are they?

Using phrases like "seems to suggest" don't go very far with fellow readers who like to see peer reviewed research. Intelligent design cannot be peer reviewed since it transcends the scientific process. It would be like me telling you that unicorns are in fact responsible for the diversity of life because they are magical creatures with unknown magical powers. Can you test that hypothesis?
Bitbull
1 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2010
Sad, sharp scientifically inclined minds satisfied to just ignore the parts that offend the preset models; Even when those answers really do not address the larger questions being asked. Assuming a smarmy aloof tone really does not do it for me. I need more.
Javinator
5 / 5 (2) Feb 05, 2010
Happy accidents leave large trails of failures... where are they?


They're dead.
Bitbull
not rated yet Feb 06, 2010
What about the larger number of "nonsensical useless random modifications" that do NOT cause death? This is the "elephant" no one wants to address. What we see is beautifully clean functional results.
Goatface
5 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2010
What about the larger number of "nonsensical useless random modifications" that do NOT cause death? This is the "elephant" no one wants to address.

This is the 'variation' part of 'variation and selection'. I, like many other people, have blue eyes and brown hair, a mutation of pigmentation genes, which neither harms nor helps me. Humans are full of this type of thing.
jimbo92107
5 / 5 (1) Feb 07, 2010
It would be far more surprising to learn that nature avoided using something in its own toolbox. Any physical property that can be used by nature, will be used. That's one of the ways "the fittest" out-compete the others.
Bitbull
1 / 5 (2) Feb 07, 2010
It would be far more surprising to learn that nature avoided using something in its own toolbox.
So you are telling me that Nature makes conscious choices. I agree. Now we just have to get past the label!
Any physical property that can be used by nature, will be used.
Again, I agree, conscious selections for maximum benefit.
That's one of the ways "the fittest" out-compete the others.

The only way "competition" is possible, is for an overall awareness of relative advantages. It is apparent that this takes place. So, where does this consciousness reside?
It would be far more surprising to learn that nature avoided using something in its own toolbox.

"Avoid"?, Yup! Beautifully refined decision.
RealScience
not rated yet Feb 08, 2010
Bitbull - why do you read consciousness into 'avoiding', and 'using'?
My keyboard is using electricity, and it isn't conscious. A rock in a hole avoids falling in an earthquake, and that doesn't make a rock conscious.

However those who say that there is no intelligence involved in the design of living things are equally wrong. There is an intelligent PROCESS at work - it is called evolution.

Just as my brain can take individually random movements of oxygen and glucose molecules and turn a huge number of events into creative, intelligent action, so, too, genomes have evolved to turn mutations into creative and intelligent design.

Evolution IS intelligent design. Life has evolved to evolve, so the process has become more and more intelligent and it has come up with extremely intelligent designs. This work just fine without an EXTERNAL or CONSCIOUS designer.

If there is a god, evolution is god's tool for designing living things. If there is no god, evolution happens anyway.
jimbo92107
not rated yet Feb 08, 2010
It would be far more surprising to learn that nature avoided using something in its own toolbox.
So you are telling me that Nature makes conscious choices. I agree. Now we just have to get past the label!


Stubborn misinterpretations of my statements don't make your twisted conclusions any better. When I said it would be surprising if nature avoided using any tools in its toolbox, that was because nature does not exhibit the requisite intentionality to say Yes or No to anything. Nature automatically takes whatever paths are physically possible. Evolution is the subtractive process that removes life forms that are less optimized for the environment. At no time is there a need for a magic being to say, "I like that one better."

Nature doesn't care if you understand it or not. But spurious provocation on a discussion thread is uncool.
mayan
1 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2010
quantum I hate this word, physicists have to replace this by other names like Plank Mechanics, however these mechanics are not PERMANENT laws of nature, but are the result of restricted observations or u r making the environment to get the effect, the chlorophyll molecules have arranged themselves just like AN Environment in a controlled lab experiment.

Similar effects are found in Brain neurons for Telekinesis, Telepathy, DejeVu etc, I have seen Gurus having these powers. Transition metals like Platinum atom etc when attached to neurons, they have special powers.
Goatface
5 / 5 (2) Feb 08, 2010
Mayan - do you have any idea what "quantum" means? It is a discrete quantity. It refers to the fact that, at small scales, space, time, energy, and even magnetic flux, are quantized, having entirely discrete (rather than continuous) values; Planck length, Planck time, or the magnetic flux quantum.
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 08, 2010
Bitbull,

Conciousness is a result of evolution, so of course it would appear that nature is arranged by a conciousness. The truth is without the chaos of nature conciousness would not be distinguishable from chaos and as such you find your theory of ID to be soundly disproved by its own mechanics.

Any questions?
Bitbull
not rated yet Feb 16, 2010
Conciousness is a result of evolution

What a remarkable statement to assert! Do you have ANY data to support it? For that matter, could you take a paragraph or two, and explain exactly what Conciousness actually is?
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Feb 16, 2010
What a remarkable statement to assert!

You'll have to excuse me if I find my view to be more accurate than "A guy you can't see, and won't meet until after you die, made everything."
Bitbull
1 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2010
Your characterization of "God" is childish, and simply a strawman argument. The temptation to ridicule instead of responding is a hallmark of one who is cornered with no real "scientific" response. Why is it so distasteful that "The Creator" uses evolution to drive physical systems in accomplishing specific long term goals?
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
You think that conciousness was created by an ultimate being that you have no evidence of.

I think conciousness is a byproduct of evolution.

And you think, that my statement is ridiculous while yours is perfectly sound.

So who bestowed your creator with conciousness?
Bitbull
1 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2010
The human distortions necessary in attempting to characterize the Infinite is our problem. The evidence of consciousness is obvious. We simply lack sufficient experience and necessary language to quantify it. Like life, love and beauty, we can only take notice of its presents.
Science now recognizes that time/space is a "thing", having at least an intellectual identifiable existence. What we refer to as The Creator, having caused time/space to exist, is not limited by the time/space Universe, or the rules imposed upon it.
Simply put, The First Cause is.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2010
Simply put, The First Cause is.

There's no logical argument that can be made for any "first cause". In fact, logic leads one to conclude that no "first cause" is possible: time must be just as infinite as space, with no beginning, and no end. You can see this rather simply, by considering the notion of "existence": to exist, one needs context -- but then does the context exist?
The evidence of consciousness is obvious.

Just like it's obvious that the Sun moves around on the sky, while the Earth stands still. You're projecting, and rather naively at that. Grow up. The universe is not made in your image, and it doesn't need you, nor any of your qualities. Your metaphysical views are both obviously anthropogenic, and painfully anthropomorphic.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2010
Conciousness is a result of evolution

What a remarkable statement to assert! Do you have ANY data to support it?

Your brain is a result of evolution. Whereas your consciousness is a product of your brain.

There's mountains of evidence -- structural, functional, fossil, genetic, biochemical -- for the former.

For the latter, all you need to do to convince yourself, is get drunk, or take some drugs, or have someone poke electrodes in your brain and stimulate random areas: then observe the effects upon your consciousness. Still not convinced? Try some sleep deprivation. Or for that matter, just reflect upon the phenomenon of sleep itself. Consider what it means to be "knocked unconscious". Ponder impacts of brain abnormalities, such as Down's syndrome, schizophrenia, grand mal ceisures, clinical depression, autism, sociopathy, split-brain syndrome, etc.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
Simply put, The First Cause is.


Hold on, I know how to respond to this in a way you'll understand.

"What a remarkable statement to assert! Do you have ANY data to support it? For that matter, could you take a paragraph or two, and explain exactly what God actually is?"

I eagerly await your response, but I feel as though it won't answer the question you posed.
Bitbull
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
Simply put, The First Cause is.

There's no logical argument that can be made for any "first cause". In fact, logic leads one to conclude that no "first cause" is possible: time must be just as infinite as space, with no beginning, and no end. You can see this rather simply, by considering the notion of "existence": to exist, one needs context -- but then does the context exist?

The "logic" we use, is pretty much a human creation. If quantum physics teaches us nothing else, it should knock us off our high horses about what is "logical".
Bitbull
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
Just like it's obvious that the Sun moves around on the sky, while the Earth stands still. You're projecting, and rather naively at that. Grow up. The universe is not made in your image, and it doesn't need you, nor any of your qualities. Your metaphysical views are both obviously anthropogenic, and painfully anthropomorphic.[/]
Again, a straw man argument. Perception is all any of us have. Through out history, the scientists of the day strutted and pontificated on one side, while the religionists did likewise on the other. No one has any absolute proofs of anything. My point in all this is that no matter the subject, actual reality is always much greater than the knowledge available, and for that matter understandable.
And please, stop with the rather unsophisticated "grow up" nonsense. I've spent 70 years participating in life and many levels in formulating my understanding. It sounds like you have just begun.
Bitbull
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
[q
Your brain is a result of evolution. Whereas your consciousness is a product of your brain.

You are confusing the capacity for tapping higher levels of consciousness with the consciousness itself. We really do not know what consciousness is, only if it is being expressed or not.

There's mountains of evidence -- structural, functional, fossil, genetic, biochemical -- for the former.


Fossils of consciousness? Really?
Bitbull
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
For the latter, all you need to do to convince yourself, is get drunk, or take some drugs, or have someone poke electrodes in your brain and stimulate random areas: then observe the effects upon your consciousness. Etc., etc.


So you argue that damaging the physical mechanism, the “radio receiver” if you will, you have damaged the unseen “radio station”? Consciousness appears to be directly tied to life, and again, we really do not know what it is, but rather only when it is missing.
Bitbull
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
sorry, formatting error...
Just like it's obvious that the Sun moves around on the sky, while the Earth stands still. You're projecting, and rather naively at that. Grow up. The universe is not made in your image, and it doesn't need you, nor any of your qualities. Your metaphysical views are both obviously anthropogenic, and painfully anthropomorphic.


Again, a straw man argument. Perception is all any of us have. Through out history, the scientists of the day strutted and pontificated on one side, while the religionists did likewise on the other. No one has any absolute proofs of anything. My point in all this is that no matter the subject, actual reality is always much greater than the knowledge available, and for that matter understandable.
And please, stop with the rather unsophisticated "grow up" nonsense. I've spent 70 years participating in life and many levels in formulating my understanding. It sounds like you have just begun.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
My point in all this is that no matter the subject, actual reality is always much greater than the knowledge available, and for that matter understandable.

If that was really your point, you wouldn't make statements such as, "The evidence of consciousness is obvious."
And please, stop with the rather unsophisticated "grow up" nonsense.

People who live in glass houses... To wit: "Your characterization of "God" is childish..."
PinkElephant
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
So you argue that damaging the physical mechanism, the “radio receiver” if you will, you have damaged the unseen “radio station”?

No, I argue that there is NO "unseen radio station" in the first place. In other words, I'll believe it when I SEE it. Put another way, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Ockham's razor, you know...

On the other hand, there is an exponentially growing heap of knowledge that falls under the rubric of "cognitive neuroscience", that shows very conclusively and quite indisputably, that there are no "radio stations". There are only networks of neurons, exchanging electrochemical impulses. Sorry to disappoint, but over a century of intense world-wide investigation has found no mysterious "supernatural" strings pulling on the material components and violating laws of physics or chemistry in the process. The brain is a causal, massively parallel computational machine, driven by sensory inputs and proprioceptive feedback.
Bitbull
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
My point in all this is that no matter the subject, actual reality is always much greater than the knowledge available, and for that matter understandable.

If that was really your point, you wouldn't make statements such as, "The evidence of consciousness is obvious."
It was, because everyone I know, believes in consciousness, no matter their individual interpretation.
And please, stop with the rather unsophisticated "grow up" nonsense.
People who live in glass houses... To wit: "Your characterization of "God" is childish..."

The characterization was indeed how a child might describe God. I didn't say the author was actually childish, just the statement.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
There's mountains of evidence -- structural, functional, fossil, genetic, biochemical -- for the former.

Fossils of consciousness? Really?

"the former" referred to the first statement, namely: "Your brain is a result of evolution." There are no fossils of brains, but there are fossils of skulls, from which brain imprints can be obtained and afferent/efferent nerve channels mapped. Something tells me that when it comes to cognitive science, you're arguing from ignorance. I have a degree in it.
The "logic" we use, is pretty much a human creation. If quantum physics teaches us nothing else, it should knock us off our high horses about what is "logical".

So you are proposing argumentation in absence of logic. Good luck.

By the way, quantum physics is VERY logical. It is expressed via mathematics, which is the most highly structured and most tightly logical method of communication available or imaginable. That it contradicts your "intuition", is another matter.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
It was, because everyone I know, believes in consciousness, no matter their individual interpretation.

You weren't talking about individual consciousness of a given animal. You were ascribing consciousness to the universe at large, and furthermore declaring such a fantastical proposal, "obvious".
The characterization was indeed how a child might describe God.

Yes, but the very notion of God, in itself, is childish. Every bit as childish, as the notion of the monster under the bed.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
Bitbull,

Conciousness is another term for being self aware.

I don't need anything other than my functional brain to be aware of myself.
PinkElephant
not rated yet Feb 17, 2010
Conciousness is another term for being self aware.

That's an over-simplification. There are many degrees of self-awareness. And it can be argued that human consciousness is qualitatively much more sophisticated than the consciousness of a fish.

Also the quality of being sentient is a key component of consciousness, yet it is manifested by 'primitive' organisms on the order of a mollusk, and to a certain degree even in plants, fungi, and bacteria.

To some extent, even a virus can be understood as "sentient" -- even if only on different time scales, and mostly specializing in chemical (as opposed to optical, inertial, or sonic) modalities.

On the whole, our linguistic construct of "consciousness" is a chimera and an illusion. What's really going on under the covers defies folk wisdom in all kinds of ways -- which manifest phenomenologically only as a result of disease, intoxication, or lesions. It's one area of science where "common sense" is quite worthless
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Feb 18, 2010
That's an over-simplification. There are many degrees of self-awareness. And it can be argued that human consciousness is qualitatively much more sophisticated than the consciousness of a fish.

But both examples are conciousness. The definition is overly simple due to my intended audience's propensity towards confusion and delusion.
Noumenon
5 / 5 (44) Feb 18, 2010
Perhaps Roger Penrose was onto something after all, with regard to consciousness and qm.
Bitbull
not rated yet Feb 20, 2010
Consciousness seems to be a "sea" we swim in, rather than a thing we posess. There is a very good hour long video on youtube on "the extended mind". Well worth a watch.

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