Publications

2019
Zhao, Evan M, et al.Light-based control of metabolic flux through assembly of synthetic organelles”. Nat Chem Biol 15.6 (2019): , 15, 6, 589-597. Web.Abstract
To maximize a desired product, metabolic engineers typically express enzymes to high, constant levels. Yet, permanent pathway activation can have undesirable consequences including competition with essential pathways and accumulation of toxic intermediates. Faced with similar challenges, natural metabolic systems compartmentalize enzymes into organelles or post-translationally induce activity under certain conditions. Here we report that optogenetic control can be used to extend compartmentalization and dynamic control to engineered metabolisms in yeast. We describe a suite of optogenetic tools to trigger assembly and disassembly of metabolically active enzyme clusters. Using the deoxyviolacein biosynthesis pathway as a model system, we find that light-switchable clustering can enhance product formation six-fold and product specificity 18-fold by decreasing the concentration of intermediate metabolites and reducing flux through competing pathways. Inducible compartmentalization of enzymes into synthetic organelles can thus be used to control engineered metabolic pathways, limit intermediates and favor the formation of desired products.
Sanfilippo, Joseph E, et al.Microfluidic-based transcriptomics reveal force-independent bacterial rheosensing”. Nat Microbiol (2019). Web.Abstract
Multiple cell types sense fluid flow as an environmental cue. Flow can exert shear force (or stress) on cells, and the prevailing model is that biological flow sensing involves the measurement of shear force. Here, we provide evidence for force-independent flow sensing in the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. A microfluidic-based transcriptomic approach enabled us to discover an operon of P. aeruginosa that is rapidly and robustly upregulated in response to flow. Using a single-cell reporter of this operon, which we name the flow-regulated operon (fro), we establish that P. aeruginosa dynamically tunes gene expression to flow intensity through a process we call rheosensing (as rheo- is Greek for flow). We further show that rheosensing occurs in multicellular biofilms, involves signalling through the alternative sigma factor FroR, and does not require known surface sensors. To directly test whether rheosensing measures force, we independently altered the two parameters that contribute to shear stress: shear rate and solution viscosity. Surprisingly, we discovered that rheosensing is sensitive to shear rate but not viscosity, indicating that rheosensing is a kinematic (force-independent) form of mechanosensing. Thus, our findings challenge the dominant belief that biological mechanosensing requires the measurement of forces.
2018
Hsin-Jung Li, Sophia, et al.Escherichia coli translation strategies differ across carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus limitation conditions”. Nat Microbiol 38 (2018): , 3, 8, 939-947. Web.Abstract
For cells to grow faster they must increase their protein production rate. Microorganisms have traditionally been thought to accomplish this increase by producing more ribosomes to enhance protein synthesis capacity, leading to the linear relationship between ribosome level and growth rate observed under most growth conditions previously examined. Past studies have suggested that this linear relationship represents an optimal resource allocation strategy for each growth rate, independent of any specific nutrient state. Here we investigate protein production strategies in continuous cultures limited for carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus, which differentially impact substrate supply for protein versus nucleic acid metabolism. Unexpectedly, we find that at slow growth rates, Escherichia coli achieves the same protein production rate using three different strategies under the three different nutrient limitations. Under phosphorus (P) limitation, translation is slow due to a particularly low abundance of ribosomes, which are RNA-rich and thus particularly costly for phosphorous-limited cells. Under nitrogen (N) limitation, translation elongation is slowed by processes including ribosome stalling at glutamine codons. Under carbon (C) limitation, translation is slowed by accumulation of inactive ribosomes not bound to messenger RNA. These extra ribosomes enable rapid growth acceleration during nutrient upshift. Thus, bacteria tune ribosome usage across different limiting nutrients to enable balanced nutrient-limited growth while also preparing for future nutrient upshifts.
Shi, Handuo, et al.How to Build a Bacterial Cell: MreB as the Foreman of E. coli Construction”. Cell 172.6 (2018): , 172, 6, 1294-1305. Web.Abstract
Cell shape matters across the kingdoms of life, and cells have the remarkable capacity to define and maintain specific shapes and sizes. But how are the shapes of micron-sized cells determined from the coordinated activities of nanometer-sized proteins? Here, we review general principles that have surfaced through the study of rod-shaped bacterial growth. Imaging approaches have revealed that polymers of the actin homolog MreB play a central role. MreB both senses and changes cell shape, thereby generating a self-organizing feedback system for shape maintenance. At the molecular level, structural and computational studies indicate that MreB filaments exhibit tunable mechanical properties that explain their preference for certain geometries and orientations along the cylindrical cell body. We illustrate the regulatory landscape of rod-shape formation and the connectivity between cell shape, cell growth, and other aspects of cell physiology. These discoveries provide a framework for future investigations into the architecture and construction of microbes.
Trivedi, Rishi R, et al.Mechanical Genomic Studies Reveal the Role of d-Alanine Metabolism in Pseudomonas aeruginosa Cell Stiffness”. MBio 95 (2018). Web.Abstract
The stiffness of bacteria prevents cells from bursting due to the large osmotic pressure across the cell wall. Many successful antibiotic chemotherapies target elements that alter mechanical properties of bacteria, and yet a global view of the biochemistry underlying the regulation of bacterial cell stiffness is still emerging. This connection is particularly interesting in opportunistic human pathogens such as that have a large (80%) proportion of genes of unknown function and low susceptibility to different families of antibiotics, including beta-lactams, aminoglycosides, and quinolones. We used a high-throughput technique to study a library of 5,790 loss-of-function mutants covering ~80% of the nonessential genes and correlated individual genes with cell stiffness. We identified 42 genes coding for proteins with diverse functions that, when deleted individually, decreased cell stiffness by >20%. This approach enabled us to construct a "mechanical genome" for d-Alanine dehydrogenase (DadA) is an enzyme that converts d-Ala to pyruvate that was included among the hits; when DadA was deleted, cell stiffness decreased by 18% (using multiple assays to measure mechanics). An increase in the concentration of d-Ala in cells downregulated the expression of genes in peptidoglycan (PG) biosynthesis, including the peptidoglycan-cross-linking transpeptidase genes and Consistent with this observation, ultraperformance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of murein from cells revealed that deletion mutants contained PG with reduced cross-linking and altered composition compared to wild-type cells. The mechanical properties of bacteria are important for protecting cells against physical stress. The cell wall is the best-characterized cellular element contributing to bacterial cell mechanics; however, the biochemistry underlying its regulation and assembly is still not completely understood. Using a unique high-throughput biophysical assay, we identified genes coding proteins that modulate cell stiffness in the opportunistic human pathogen This approach enabled us to discover proteins with roles in a diverse range of biochemical pathways that influence the stiffness of cells. We demonstrate that d-Ala-a component of the peptidoglycan-is tightly regulated in cells and that its accumulation reduces expression of machinery that cross-links this material and decreases cell stiffness. This research demonstrates that there is much to learn about mechanical regulation in bacteria, and these studies revealed new nonessential targets that may enhance antibacterial chemotherapies or lead to new approaches.
Bratton, Benjamin P, et al.MreB polymers and curvature localization are enhanced by RodZ and predict E. coli's cylindrical uniformity”. Nat Commun 91 (2018): , 9, 1, 2797. Web.Abstract
The actin-like protein MreB has been proposed to coordinate the synthesis of the cell wall to determine cell shape in bacteria. MreB is preferentially localized to areas of the cell with specific curved geometries, avoiding the cell poles. It remains unclear whether MreB's curvature preference is regulated by additional factors, and which specific features of MreB promote specific features of rod shape growth. Here, we show that the transmembrane protein RodZ modulates MreB curvature preference and polymer number in E. coli, properties which are regulated independently. An unbiased machine learning analysis shows that MreB polymer number, the total length of MreB polymers, and MreB curvature preference are key correlates of cylindrical uniformity, the variability in radius within a single cell. Changes in the values of these parameters are highly predictive of the resulting changes in cell shape (r = 0.93). Our data thus suggest RodZ promotes the assembly of geometrically-localized MreB polymers that lead to the growth of uniform cylinders.
Fröhlich, Kathrin S, Konrad U Förstner, and Zemer Gitai. “Post-transcriptional gene regulation by an Hfq-independent small RNA in Caulobacter crescentus”. Nucleic Acids Res 46.20 (2018): , 46, 20, 10969-10982. Web.Abstract
Bacterial small RNAs (sRNAs) are a heterogeneous group of post-transcriptional regulators that often act at the heart of large networks. Hundreds of sRNAs have been discovered by genome-wide screens and most of these sRNAs exert their functions by base-pairing with target mRNAs. However, studies addressing the molecular roles of sRNAs have been largely confined to gamma-proteobacteria, such as Escherichia coli. Here we identify and characterize a novel sRNA, ChvR, from the alpha-proteobacterium Caulobacter crescentus. Transcription of chvR is controlled by the conserved two-component system ChvI-ChvG and it is expressed in response to DNA damage, low pH, and growth in minimal medium. Transient over-expression of ChvR in combination with genome-wide transcriptome profiling identified the mRNA of the TonB-dependent receptor ChvT as the sole target of ChvR. Genetic and biochemical analyses showed that ChvR represses ChvT at the post-transcriptional level through direct base-pairing. Fine-mapping of the ChvR-chvT interaction revealed the requirement of two distinct base-pairing sites for full target regulation. Finally, we show that ChvR-controlled repression of chvT is independent of the ubiquitous RNA-chaperone Hfq, and therefore distinct from previously reported mechanisms employed by prototypical bacterial sRNAs. These findings have implications for the mechanism and evolution of sRNA function across bacterial species.
2017
Liu, George S, et al.The effect of antibiotics on protein diffusion in the Escherichia coli cytoplasmic membrane”. PLoS One 12.10 (2017): , 12, 10, e0185810. Web.Abstract
Accumulating evidence suggests that molecular motors contribute to the apparent diffusion of molecules in cells. However, current literature lacks evidence for an active process that drives diffusive-like motion in the bacterial membrane. One possible mechanism is cell wall synthesis, which involves the movement of protein complexes in the cell membrane circumferentially around the cell envelope and may generate currents in the lipid bilayer that advectively transport other transmembrane proteins. We test this hypothesis in Escherichia coli using drug treatments that slow cell wall synthesis and measure their effect on the diffusion of the transmembrane protein mannitol permease using fluorescence recovery after photobleaching. We found no clear decrease in diffusion in response to vancomycin and no decrease in response to mecillinam treatment. These results suggest that cell wall synthesis is not an active contributor to mobility in the cytoplasmic membrane.
Lynch, Eric M, et al.Human CTP synthase filament structure reveals the active enzyme conformation”. Nat Struct Mol Biol 24.6 (2017): , 24, 6, 507-514. Web.Abstract
The universally conserved enzyme CTP synthase (CTPS) forms filaments in bacteria and eukaryotes. In bacteria, polymerization inhibits CTPS activity and is required for nucleotide homeostasis. Here we show that for human CTPS, polymerization increases catalytic activity. The cryo-EM structures of bacterial and human CTPS filaments differ considerably in overall architecture and in the conformation of the CTPS protomer, explaining the divergent consequences of polymerization on activity. The structure of human CTPS filament, the first structure of the full-length human enzyme, reveals a novel active conformation. The filament structures elucidate allosteric mechanisms of assembly and regulation that rely on a conserved conformational equilibrium. The findings may provide a mechanism for increasing human CTPS activity in response to metabolic state and challenge the assumption that metabolic filaments are generally storage forms of inactive enzymes. Allosteric regulation of CTPS polymerization by ligands likely represents a fundamental mechanism underlying assembly of other metabolic filaments.
Bartlett, Thomas M, et al.A Periplasmic Polymer Curves Vibrio cholerae and Promotes Pathogenesis.”. Cell 168.1-2 (2017): , 168, 1-2, 172-185.e15. Web.Abstract
Pathogenic Vibrio cholerae remains a major human health concern. V. cholerae has a characteristic curved rod morphology, with a longer outer face and a shorter inner face. The mechanism and function of this curvature were previously unknown. Here, we identify and characterize CrvA, the first curvature determinant in V. cholerae. CrvA self-assembles into filaments at the inner face of cell curvature. Unlike traditional cytoskeletons, CrvA localizes to the periplasm and thus can be considered a periskeletal element. To quantify how curvature forms, we developed QuASAR (quantitative analysis of sacculus architecture remodeling), which measures subcellular peptidoglycan dynamics. QuASAR reveals that CrvA asymmetrically patterns peptidoglycan insertion rather than removal, causing more material insertions into the outer face than the inner face. Furthermore, crvA is quorum regulated, and CrvA-dependent curvature increases at high cell density. Finally, we demonstrate that CrvA promotes motility in hydrogels and confers an advantage in host colonization and pathogenesis.
2016
Habrian, Chris, et al.Inhibition of Escherichia coli CTP Synthetase by NADH and Other Nicotinamides and Their Mutual Interactions with CTP and GTP.”. Biochemistry 55.39 (2016): , 55, 39, 5554-5565. Web.Abstract
CTP synthetases catalyze the last step of pyrimidine biosynthesis and provide the sole de novo source of cytosine-containing nucleotides. As a central regulatory hub, they are regulated by ribonucleotide and enzyme concentration through ATP and UTP substrate availability, CTP product inhibition, GTP allosteric modification, and quaternary structural changes including the formation of CTP-inhibited linear polymers (filaments). Here, we demonstrate that nicotinamide redox cofactors are moderate inhibitors of Escherichia coli CTP synthetase (EcCTPS). NADH and NADPH are the most potent, and the primary inhibitory determinant is the reduced nicotinamide ring. Although nicotinamide inhibition is noncompetitive with substrates, it apparently enhances CTP product feedback inhibition and GTP allosteric regulation. Further, CTP and GTP also enhance each other's effects, consistent with the idea that NADH, CTP, and GTP interact with a common intermediate enzyme state. A filament-blocking mutation that reduces CTP inhibitory effects also reduced inhibition by GTP but not NADH. Protein-concentration effects on GTP inhibition suggest that, like CTP, GTP preferentially binds to the filament. All three compounds display nearly linear dose-dependent inhibition, indicating a complex pattern of cooperative interactions between binding sites. The apparent synergy between inhibitors, in consideration with physiological nucleotide concentrations, points to metabolically relevant inhibition by nicotinamides, and implicates cellular redox state as a regulator of pyrimidine biosynthesis.
Wilson, Maxwell Z, et al.Mode of action and resistance studies unveil new roles for tropodithietic acid as an anticancer agent and the γ-glutamyl cycle as a proton sink.”. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113.6 (2016): , 113, 6, 1630-5. Web.Abstract
While we have come to appreciate the architectural complexity of microbially synthesized secondary metabolites, far less attention has been paid to linking their structural features with possible modes of action. This is certainly the case with tropodithietic acid (TDA), a broad-spectrum antibiotic generated by marine bacteria that engage in dynamic symbioses with microscopic algae. TDA promotes algal health by killing unwanted marine pathogens; however, its mode of action (MoA) and significance for the survival of an algal-bacterial miniecosystem remains unknown. Using cytological profiling, we herein determine the MoA of TDA and surprisingly find that it acts by a mechanism similar to polyether antibiotics, which are structurally highly divergent. We show that like polyether drugs, TDA collapses the proton motive force by a proton antiport mechanism, in which extracellular protons are exchanged for cytoplasmic cations. The α-carboxy-tropone substructure is ideal for this purpose as the proton can be carried on the carboxyl group, whereas the basicity of the tropylium ion facilitates cation export. Based on similarities to polyether anticancer agents we have further examined TDA's cytotoxicity and find it to exhibit potent, broad-spectrum anticancer activities. These results highlight the power of MoA-profiling technologies in repurposing old drugs for new targets. In addition, we identify an operon that confers TDA resistance to the producing marine bacteria. Bioinformatic and biochemical analyses of these genes lead to a previously unknown metabolic link between TDA/acid resistance and the γ-glutamyl cycle. The implications of this resistance mechanism in the context of the algal-bacterial symbiosis are discussed.
Ouzounov, Nikolay, et al.MreB Orientation Correlates with Cell Diameter in Escherichia coli.”. Biophys J 111.5 (2016): , 111, 5, 1035-43. Web.Abstract
Bacteria have remarkably robust cell shape control mechanisms. For example, cell diameter only varies by a few percent across a given population. The bacterial actin homolog, MreB, is necessary for establishment and maintenance of rod shape although the detailed properties of MreB that are important for shape control remained unknown. In this study, we perturb MreB in two ways: by treating cells with the polymerization-inhibiting drug A22 and by creating point mutants in mreB. These perturbations modify the steady-state diameter of cells over a wide range, from 790 ± 30 nm to 1700 ± 20 nm. To determine which properties of MreB are important for diameter control, we correlated structural characteristics of fluorescently tagged MreB polymers with cell diameter by simultaneously analyzing three-dimensional images of MreB and cell shape. Our results indicate that the helical pitch angle of MreB inversely correlates with the cell diameter of Escherichia coli. Other correlations between MreB and cell diameter are not found to be significant. These results demonstrate that the physical properties of MreB filaments are important for shape control and support a model in which MreB organizes the cell wall growth machinery to produce a chiral cell wall structure and dictate cell diameter.
Inclan, Yuki F, et al.A scaffold protein connects type IV pili with the Chp chemosensory system to mediate activation of virulence signaling in Pseudomonas aeruginosa.”. Mol Microbiol 101.4 (2016): , 101, 4, 590-605. Web.Abstract
Type IV pili (TFP) function as mechanosensors to trigger acute virulence programs in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. On surface contact, TFP retraction activates the Chp chemosensory system phosphorelay to upregulate 3', 5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP) production and transcription of virulence-associated genes. To dissect the specific interactions mediating the mechanochemical relay, we used affinity purification/mass spectrometry, directed co-immunoprecipitations in P. aeruginosa, single cell analysis of contact-dependent transcriptional reporters, subcellular localization and bacterial two hybrid assays. We demonstrate that FimL, a Chp chemosensory system accessory protein of unknown function, directly links the integral component of the TFP structural complex FimV, a peptidoglycan binding protein, with one of the Chp system output response regulators PilG. FimL and PilG colocalize at cell poles in a FimV-dependent manner. While PilG phosphorylation is required for TFP function and mechanochemical signaling, it is not required for polar localization or binding to FimL. Phylogenetic analysis reveals other bacterial species simultaneously encode TFP, the Chp system, FimL, FimV and adenylate cyclase homologs, suggesting that surface sensing may be widespread among TFP-expressing bacteria. We propose that FimL acts as a scaffold enabling spatial colocalization of TFP and Chp system components to coordinate signaling leading to cAMP-dependent upregulation of virulence genes on surface contact.
2015
Siryaporn, Albert, et al.Colonization, competition, and dispersal of pathogens in fluid flow networks.”. Curr Biol 25.9 (2015): , 25, 9, 1201-7. Web.Abstract
The colonization of bacteria in complex fluid flow networks, such as those found in host vasculature, remains poorly understood. Recently, it was reported that many bacteria, including Bacillus subtilis [1], Escherichia coli [2], and Pseudomonas aeruginosa [3, 4], can move in the opposite direction of fluid flow. Upstream movement results from the interplay between fluid shear stress and bacterial motility structures, and such rheotactic-like behavior is predicted to occur for a wide range of conditions [1]. Given the potential ubiquity of upstream movement, its impact on population-level behaviors within hosts could be significant. Here, we find that P. aeruginosa communities use a diverse set of motility strategies, including a novel surface-motility mechanism characterized by counter-advection and transverse diffusion, to rapidly disperse throughout vasculature-like flow networks. These motility modalities give P. aeruginosa a selective growth advantage, enabling it to self-segregate from other human pathogens such as Proteus mirabilis and Staphylococcus aureus that outcompete P. aeruginosa in well-mixed non-flow environments. We develop a quantitative model of bacterial colonization in flow networks, confirm our model in vivo in plant vasculature, and validate a key prediction that colonization and dispersal can be inhibited by modifying surface chemistry. Our results show that the interaction between flow mechanics and motility structures shapes the formation of mixed-species communities and suggest a general mechanism by which bacteria could colonize hosts. Furthermore, our results suggest novel strategies for tuning the composition of multi-species bacterial communities in hosts, preventing inappropriate colonization in medical devices, and combatting bacterial infections.
Persat, Alexandre, et al.The mechanical world of bacteria.”. Cell 161.5 (2015): , 161, 5, 988-97. Web.Abstract
In the wild, bacteria are predominantly associated with surfaces as opposed to existing as free-swimming, isolated organisms. They are thus subject to surface-specific mechanics, including hydrodynamic forces, adhesive forces, the rheology of their surroundings, and transport rules that define their encounters with nutrients and signaling molecules. Here, we highlight the effects of mechanics on bacterial behaviors on surfaces at multiple length scales, from single bacteria to the development of multicellular bacterial communities such as biofilms.
Morgenstein, Randy M, et al.RodZ links MreB to cell wall synthesis to mediate MreB rotation and robust morphogenesis.”. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 112.40 (2015): , 112, 40, 12510-5. Web.Abstract
The rod shape of most bacteria requires the actin homolog, MreB. Whereas MreB was initially thought to statically define rod shape, recent studies found that MreB dynamically rotates around the cell circumference dependent on cell wall synthesis. However, the mechanism by which cytoplasmic MreB is linked to extracytoplasmic cell wall synthesis and the function of this linkage for morphogenesis has remained unclear. Here we demonstrate that the transmembrane protein RodZ mediates MreB rotation by directly or indirectly coupling MreB to cell wall synthesis enzymes. Furthermore, we map the RodZ domains that link MreB to cell wall synthesis and identify mreB mutants that suppress the shape defect of ΔrodZ without restoring rotation, uncoupling rotation from rod-like growth. Surprisingly, MreB rotation is dispensable for rod-like shape determination under standard laboratory conditions but is required for the robustness of rod shape and growth under conditions of cell wall stress.
Persat, Alexandre, et al.Type IV pili mechanochemically regulate virulence factors in Pseudomonas aeruginosa.”. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 112.24 (2015): , 112, 24, 7563-8. Web.Abstract
Bacteria have evolved a wide range of sensing systems to appropriately respond to environmental signals. Here we demonstrate that the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa detects contact with surfaces on short timescales using the mechanical activity of its type IV pili, a major surface adhesin. This signal transduction mechanism requires attachment of type IV pili to a solid surface, followed by pilus retraction and signal transduction through the Chp chemosensory system, a chemotaxis-like sensory system that regulates cAMP production and transcription of hundreds of genes, including key virulence factors. Like other chemotaxis pathways, pili-mediated surface sensing results in a transient response amplified by a positive feedback that increases type IV pili activity, thereby promoting long-term surface attachment that can stimulate additional virulence and biofilm-inducing pathways. The methyl-accepting chemotaxis protein-like chemosensor PilJ directly interacts with the major pilin subunit PilA. Our results thus support a mechanochemical model where a chemosensory system measures the mechanically induced conformational changes in stretched type IV pili. These findings demonstrate that P. aeruginosa not only uses type IV pili for surface-specific twitching motility, but also as a sensor regulating surface-induced gene expression and pathogenicity.
2014
Persat, Alexandre, and Zemer Gitai. “Bacterial evolution: rewiring modules to get in shape.”. Curr Biol 24.11 (2014): , 24, 11, R522-4. Web.Abstract
Bacterial species take on a wide variety of shapes, but the mechanisms by which specific shapes evolve have remained poorly understood. A recent study demonstrates that two Asticcacaulis species repurposed an ancestral regulatory protein to rewire the modules of stalk regulation, localization, and synthesis, thereby generating new shapes.
Persat, Alexandre, Howard A Stone, and Zemer Gitai. “The curved shape of Caulobacter crescentus enhances surface colonization in flow.”. Nat Commun 5 (2014): , 5, 3824. Web.Abstract
Each bacterial species has a characteristic shape, but the benefits of specific morphologies remain largely unknown. To understand potential functions for cell shape, we focused on the curved bacterium Caulobacter crescentus. Paradoxically, C. crescentus curvature is robustly maintained in the wild but straight mutants have no known disadvantage in standard laboratory conditions. Here we demonstrate that cell curvature enhances C. crescentus surface colonization in flow. Imaging the formation of microcolonies at high spatial and temporal resolution indicates that flow causes curved cells to orient such that they arc over the surface, thereby decreasing the distance between the surface and polar adhesive pili, and orienting pili to face the surface. C. crescentus thus repurposes pilus retraction, typically used for surface motility, for surface attachment. The benefit provided by curvature is eliminated at high flow intensity, raising the possibility that diversity in curvature adapts related species for life in different flow environments.

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