Tech News

IBM's AI Can Predict How Parkinson's Disease May Progress In Individuals

science - Posted On:2021-07-30 09:14:56 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: [R]esearchers from IBM and Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) say they've developed a program that can predict how the symptoms of a Parkinson's disease patient will progress in terms of both timing and severity. In The Lancet Digital Health journal, they claim the software could transform how doctors help patients manage their symptoms by allowing them to better predict how the disease will progress. The breakthrough wouldn't have been possible without the Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative, a study the Michael J. Fox Foundation sponsored. IBM describes the dataset, which includes information on more than 1,400 individuals, as the "largest and most robust volume of longitudinal Parkinson's patient data to date" and says it allowed its AI model to map out complex symptom and progression patterns. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Rocket Report: Ariane V returns after long layoff, Rocket Lab’s tough culture

Science - Posted On:2021-07-30 07:29:57 Source: arstechnica

Welcome to Edition 4.09 of the Rocket Report! I was certainly looking forward to the second launch of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft on Friday, and the Atlas V rocket was ready to go. Alas, serious problems with Russia's new space station module, Nauka, delayed the launch until next Tuesday.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

New Zealand publication investigates Rocket Lab work culture. Former employees of launch company Rocket Lab claim that, behind its flashy public relations, is a toxic culture of fear where people are pushed out of the business and punished for minor transgressions, BusinessDesk reports. The article asserts that founder Peter Beck is an inspirational leader but that his management style is more appropriate for a very small startup rather than a maturing aerospace company. Although Rocket Lab is based it the US, it operates a rocket assembly and launch site in New Zealand.

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Russian module suddenly fires thrusters after docking with space station

Science - Posted On:2021-07-29 20:14:59 Source: arstechnica

Flight controllers at NASA and Roscosmos averted a disaster on Thursday after a large Russian module docked with the International Space Station and began to "inadvertently" fire its thrusters.

The Russian "Nauka" module linked to the space station at 8:30 am CT (13:30 UTC), local time in Houston, where NASA's Mission Control is based. After that, Russian cosmonauts aboard the station began preparing to open the hatches leading to Nauka, but at 11:34 am Houston time, Nauka unexpectedly started to fire its movement thrusters.

Within minutes, the space station began to lose attitude control. This was a problem for several reasons. First of all, the station requires a certain attitude to maintain signal with geostationary satellites and talk to Mission Control on the ground. Also, solar arrays are positioned to collect power based upon this predetermined attitude.

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ISS Briefly Loses Control After New Russian Module Misfires

science - Posted On:2021-07-29 19:44:59 Source: slashdot

destinyland shares a report from CNN: An unusual and potentially dangerous situation unfolded Thursday at the International Space Station, as the newly-docked Russian Nauka module inadvertently fired its thrusters causing a "tug of war" with the space station and briefly pushing it out of position, according to NASA flight controllers. Nauka -- a long-delayed laboratory module that Russian space agency Roscosmos' launched to the International Space Station last week -- inadvertently fired its thrusters after docking with the International Space Station Thursday morning. NASA officials declared it a "spacecraft emergency" as the space station experienced a loss of attitude (the angle at which the ISS is supposed to remain oriented) control for nearly one hour, and ground controllers lost communications with the seven astronauts currently aboard the ISS for 11 minutes during the ordeal. A joint investigation between NASA and the Russian space agency Roscosmos is now ongoing. "The incident also delayed the launch of the Boeing Starliner uncrewed test flight to the station, which had been set to launch on Friday," adds CNN. "NASA says the move allows the 'International Space Station team time to continue working checkouts of the newly arrived Roscosmos' Nauka module and to ensure the station will be ready for Starliner's arrival.'" Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Second lab worker with deadly prion disease prompts research pause in France

Science - Posted On:2021-07-29 18:29:59 Source: arstechnica

Five public research institutions in France announced a three-month moratorium on prion research this week, following a newly identified case of prion disease in a retired lab worker.

If the case is found to be linked to a laboratory exposure, it would be the second such case identified in France. In 2019, another lab worker in the country died of a prion disease at the age of 33. Her death came around nine years after she accidentally jabbed herself in the thumb with forceps used to handle frozen slices of humanized mouse brains infected with prions.

Prions are misfolded, misshapen forms of normal proteins, called prion proteins, which are commonly found in human and other animal cells. What prion proteins do normally is still unclear, but they're readily found in the human brain. When a misfolded prion enters the mix, it can corrupt the normal prion proteins around them, prompting them to misfold as well, clump together, and corrupt others. As the corruption ripples through the brain, it leads to brain tissue damage, eventually causing little holes to form. This gives the brain a sponge-like appearance and is the reason prion diseases are also called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).

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The European Union Pulls Ahead of the United States In Vaccinations

science - Posted On:2021-07-29 18:29:59 Source: slashdot

gollum123 shares a report from The New York Times: The 27 member states of the European Union altogether have now administered more coronavirus vaccine doses per 100 people than the United States, in another sign that inoculations across the bloc have maintained some speed throughout the summer, while they have stagnated for weeks in the United States. E.U. countries had administered 102.66 doses per 100 people as of Tuesday, while the United States had administered 102.44, according to the latest vaccination figures compiled by Our World in Data. This month, the European Union also overtook the United States in first injections; currently, 58 percent of people across the bloc have received a dose, compared with 56.5 percent in the United States. The latest figures provide a stark contrast with the early stages of the vaccination campaigns this year, when E.U. countries, facing a shortage of doses and delayed deliveries, looked in envy at the initially more successful efforts in the United States, Britain and Israel. But the European Union is now vaccinating its populations at a faster pace than most developed countries. More than 70 percent of adults in the bloc have now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Over half the deer in Michigan seem to have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2

Science - Posted On:2021-07-29 16:29:59 Source: arstechnica

On Wednesday, the US Department of Agriculture released some rather disturbing news: a survey of wild deer populations has found that large numbers of the animals seem to have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The finding indicates that there's a very large population of wild animals in North America that could serve as a reservoir for the virus, even if we were to get its circulation within the human population under control.

Why check deer in the first place? It turns out that the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is studying a variety of species "to identify species that may serve as reservoirs or hosts for the virus, as well as understand the origin of the virus, and predict its impacts on wildlife and the risks of cross-species transmission." This is the same group that identified the spread of the virus to a wild mink in 2020.

Using a captive deer population, the USDA had already determined that deer can be infected by the virus, although the animals display no symptoms. So although direct interactions between deer and humans are relatively limited, checking the wild populations made sense. The USDA checked populations in a total of 32 counties in four different states, obtaining blood samples to look for antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2.

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On Earth, things evolve into crabs—could the same be true in space?

Science - Posted On:2021-07-29 13:30:00 Source: arstechnica

Many organisms on planet Earth aren't crabs. Dogs, for instance—definitely not crabs. Science also suggests that humans are not, in fact, crabs. But a surprising number of creatures either are crabs or look a lot like them. For example, a hermit crab has a distinctly crab-like appearance but is not technically a real crab. Hermit crabs are not alone; over the history of life on Earth, there have been five separate cases in which decapod crustaceans have evolved this way, a process common enough that it has picked up a formal term: carcinization.

Around a year ago, this evolutionary process captured the imagination of the Internet. Headlines like “Why everything eventually becomes a crab” and “Why Does Evolution Keep Turning Everything Into Crabs” popped up. PBS even made a video.

"Everything" is clear hyperbole—the overwhelming majority of things on Earth are not crabs and seemingly have no plans to become them. But if there are benefits to having a crab-like shape on Earth, should we view that as a general rule of life? Could it hold true on other planets? If the process of carcinization operates here, it's not unreasonable to expect that it might happen elsewhere.

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Pfizer Vaccine Effectiveness Drops To 84 Percent After Six Months, Study Finds

science - Posted On:2021-07-29 09:14:57 Source: slashdot

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: The effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine fell from 96 percent to 84 percent over six months, according to data released on Wednesday. The preprint study funded by the companies determined that the vaccine's effectiveness reached a high point of 96.2 percent within two months after the second dose. But the efficacy "declined gradually" to 83.7 percent within six months, with an average decrease of about 6 percent every two months. But even with the slip in efficacy, the data indicates the vaccine offers protection six months later. The ongoing study with more than 44,000 participants across the Americas and Europe determined the vaccine was overall 91.1 percent effective, after 81 cases emerged among the vaccinated and 873 among those who received the placebo. The efficacy of the vaccine against severe disease including hospitalizations remained high, at 97 percent. Researchers will continue to observe participants of the study up to two years and combined with "real-world" data "will determine whether a booster is likely to be beneficial after a longer interval." If the efficacy continued to decrease at the current rate, it could fall below 50 percent within 18 months, suggesting that booster shots could be needed. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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First Detection of Light From Behind a Black Hole

science - Posted On:2021-07-29 03:14:58 Source: slashdot

Stanford University astrophysicist Dan Wilkins has spotted the first detection of light from behind a black hole. Phys.Org reports: "Any light that goes into that black hole doesn't come out, so we shouldn't be able to see anything that's behind the black hole," said Wilkins, who is a research scientist at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. It is another strange characteristic of the black hole, however, that makes this observation possible. "The reason we can see that is because that black hole is warping space, bending light and twisting magnetic fields around itself," Wilkins explained. The strange discovery, detailed in a paper published July 28 in Nature, is the first direct observation of light from behind a black hole -- a scenario that was predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity but never confirmed, until now. "Fifty years ago, when astrophysicists starting speculating about how the magnetic field might behave close to a black hole, they had no idea that one day we might have the techniques to observe this directly and see Einstein's general theory of relativity in action," said Roger Blandford, a co-author of the paper who is the Luke Blossom Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Stanford and SLAC professor of physics and particle physics. The original motivation behind this research was to learn more about a mysterious feature of certain black holes, called a corona. Material falling into a supermassive black hole powers the brightest continuous sources of light in the universe, and as it does so, forms a corona around the black hole. This light -- which is X-ray light -- can be analyzed to map and characterize a black hole. [...] As Wilkins took a closer look to investigate the origin of the flares, he saw a series of smaller flashes. These, the researchers determined, are the same X-ray flares but reflected from the back of the disk -- a first glimpse at the far side of a black hole. [...] The mission to characterize and understand coronas continues and will require more observation. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Missouri AG wages war on masks as state blazes with delta cases

Science - Posted On:2021-07-28 19:29:59 Source: arstechnica

Missouri has been one of the hardest-hit states so far in these early days of a delta-fueled COVID-19 surge. Cases increased nearly 500 percent since the start of July, while vaccinations stalled. Right now, with just 41 percent of the state fully vaccinated, 112 of the state's 114 counties have high or substantial levels of coronavirus spread. Hospitalizations are up statewide, and some facilities have already run out of ventilators and seen intensive care units hit maximum capacity. Deaths are also increasing, with more than 300 people losing their lives this month since July 1. And the proportion of COVID-19 tests coming back positive is still rising, suggesting that things will likely only get worse in the weeks to come.

By nearly every metric, this entirely preventable surge is tragic. Yet, it hasn't stopped the Show Me State's Republican attorney general, Eric Schmitt, from waging war on local health restrictions aimed at trying to curb transmission. On Monday, Schmitt filed a lawsuit to stop St. Louis County and St. Louis City from enforcing mask mandates for fully vaccinated people and children, which took effect that day.

The timing of the lawsuit is awkward. It partly rests on now-outdated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated people didn't need to wear masks in most indoor settings. "The Mask Mandates are arbitrary and capricious because they require vaccinated individuals to wear masks, despite the CDC guidance that this is not necessary," the lawsuit claims. The rest of the lawsuit didn't argue that masks were ineffective at curbing transmission but rather claimed that they were unnecessary for children—despite that they are largely ineligible for vaccinations—and that requiring them is "unconstitutional." Otherwise, the lawsuit nitpicked language of the mandates, such as alleging that they didn't define the word "dwelling."

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Pfizer Data Suggest Third Dose of Covid-19 Vaccine 'Strongly' Boosts Protection Against Delta Variant

science - Posted On:2021-07-28 17:29:59 Source: slashdot

A third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine can "strongly" boost protection against the Delta variant -- beyond the protection afforded by the standard two doses, suggests new data released by Pfizer on Wednesday. From a report: The data posted online suggest that antibody levels against the Delta variant in people ages 18 to 55 who receive a third dose of vaccine are greater than fivefold than following a second dose. Among people ages 65 to 85, the Pfizer data suggest that antibody levels against the Delta variant after receiving a third dose of vaccine are greater than 11-fold than following a second dose. The data, which included 23 people, have not yet been peer-reviewed or published. During a company earnings call on Wednesday morning, Dr. Mikael Dolsten, who leads worldwide research, development and medical for Pfizer, called the new data on a third dose of vaccine "encouraging." "Receiving a third dose more than six months after vaccination, when protection may be beginning to wane, was estimated to potentially boost the neutralizing antibody titers in participants in this study to up to 100 times higher post-dose three compared to pre-dose three," Dolsten said in prepared remarks. "These preliminary data are very encouraging as Delta continues to spread." The data also show that antibody levels are much higher against the original coronavirus variant and the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa, after a third dose. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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A global index to track the health of tropical rainforests

Science - Posted On:2021-07-28 15:00:00 Source: arstechnica

We’ve known for decades that tropical rainforests are special. They’re nearly unrivaled in biodiversity, and research has shown that they absorb more carbon dioxide than any other ecosystem. A recent study showed that the tropics sequester four times as much carbon dioxide as temperate and boreal ecosystems combined—and several studies have estimated that all terrestrial ecosystems combined sequester as much as 30 percent of the total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere each year.

We’ve also known for decades that these ecosystems are at risk of vanishing. As much as 20 percent of tropical rainforests have been cleared in the last 30 years, with an additional 10 percent lost to degradation. Beyond these direct threats, forests worldwide, and especially rainforests, are experiencing severe losses due to climate change—notably higher temperatures and drought.

Until now, there haven’t been means to systematically keep tabs on the health of these critical ecosystems. But a collaboration of nearly 50 institutions has recently developed a comprehensive index to measure the health and vulnerability of all tropical rainforests around the world. The result is a potential warning system that allows scientists and policymakers to monitor and prioritize which forests are at the highest risk of irreversible damage and loss.

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France Issues Moratorium on Prion Research After Fatal Brain Disease Strikes Two Lab Workers

science - Posted On:2021-07-28 12:15:01 Source: slashdot

Five public research institutions in France have imposed a 3-month moratorium on the study of prions -- a class of misfolding, infectious proteins that cause fatal brain diseases -- after a retired lab worker who handled prions in the past was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), the most common prion disease in humans. From a report: An investigation is underway to find out whether the patient, who worked at a lab run by the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), contracted the disease on the job. If so, it would be the second such case in France in the past few years. In June 2019, an INRAE lab worker named Emilie Jaumain died at age 33, 10 years after pricking her thumb during an experiment with prion-infected mice. Her family is now suing INRAE for manslaughter and endangering life; her illness had already led to tightened safety measures at French prion labs. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Rocket Lab not yet close to profitability, proxy statement reveals

Science - Posted On:2021-07-28 09:44:57 Source: arstechnica

Running a rocket launch company is an expensive proposition. You need hundreds of employees, lots of expensive machines and tooling, plenty of hardware, and at least one launch site. To make matters worse, for a purely commercial launch firm like Rocket Lab, you typically only get paid when you deliver someone's satellite into orbit.

So it is perhaps no surprise that the US-based company, which launches from New Zealand and has about 600 employees, has been losing a lot of money. According to a new proxy statement, Rocket Lab experienced net losses of $30 million and $55 million in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Given the company's financial position, an independent auditor, according to the proxy statement, "expressed substantial doubt" about Rocket Lab's "ability to continue as a going concern."

These are the kinds of details we rarely see in the often financially opaque launch business, but as part of the process of converting into a publicly traded Special Purpose Acquisition Company, Rocket Lab had to make extensive financial disclosures. The full 712-page document can be downloaded here.

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Astronaut Watches Russian Space Station Module Fall From Space In Fiery Demise

science - Posted On:2021-07-28 03:14:57 Source: slashdot

On Monday, astronauts said goodbye to a cornerstone of the International Space Station and captured stunning images of the compartment burning up in Earth's atmosphere. reports: A Russian Progress cargo vehicle towed the module, called Pirs, away from the space station and down through Earth's atmosphere to ensure the module burned up completely and reduce the odds of any large chunks making it to Earth's surface. Russia had launched its Pirs module in 2001; since then, the module, which served as a port to the space station, hosted more than 70 different capsules and supported Russian cosmonauts conducting extravehicular activities, or spacewalks. To make room for Russia's new science module, dubbed Nauka, which launched on July 21 and will arrive at the station on Thursday (July 29), Pirs had to go. Yesterday's fiery retirement ceremony marks the first time a major component of the International Space Station has been discarded. The attached Progress vehicle, which had arrived at the space station in February, controlled Pirs' re-entry to ensure that the module was destroyed as thoroughly as possible. European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet shared the photographs on Flickr. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Mergers, twists, and pentagons: the architecture of honeycombs

Science - Posted On:2021-07-27 19:14:59 Source: arstechnica

Bees manage some impressive feats. They not only remember the location of good food sources, but they're able to communicate this information to their peers. They also care for the hive's young and organize attacks against intruders.

It's easy to overlook that they're brilliant at construction. Almost every honeycomb in a hive is a perfect hexagon, with each side the same length. This comes despite the fact that they have to build hexagons of different sizes for workers and drones, and often merge honeycombs started on opposite walls of the hive. How do they manage around these complexities?

A new paper uses an automated image analysis system to identify the different ways that bees manage these transitions. The researchers who made the system find that bees see issues coming in advance, and start making smaller adjustments that, in the end, help avoid the need for larger changes.

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CDC mask reversal: Vaccinated should wear masks in many settings amid surge

Science - Posted On:2021-07-27 17:14:59 Source: arstechnica

Fully vaccinated Americans should go back to masking up in schools and areas of high or substantial COVID-19 transmission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday.

The CDC says its stark reversal in mask guidance is prompted by the current surge in COVID-19 cases and the spread of the hypertransmissible delta variant, which is now dominant in the US and thought to be more than twice as contagious as previous versions of the virus.

Specifically, the CDC says new data from outbreak investigations in the US and elsewhere suggests that fully vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections with the delta variant carry similar levels of viral loads in their respiratory tracts as unvaccinated people infected with the delta variant. This raises concern that fully vaccinated people can spread the delta variant to others.

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CDC: Vaccinated People in COVID Hotspots Should Resume Wearing Masks

science - Posted On:2021-07-27 16:15:00 Source: slashdot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance on Tuesday recommending that vaccinated people wear masks in indoor, public settings if they are in parts of the U.S. with substantial to high transmission, among other circumstances. From a report: The guidance, a reversal from recommendations made two months ago, comes as the Delta variant continues to drive up case rates across the country. Millions of people in the U.S. -- either by choice or who are ineligible -- remain unvaccinated and at risk of serious infection. Community leaders in areas with high transmission rates should encourage vaccination and masking, the agency says. In another reversal, the CDC also recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools this incoming school year, regardless of vaccination status. Los Angeles County, New Orleans, Savannah and Chicago are among the major metropolitan areas that reinstated mask mandates amid a rise in cases. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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50 Years Ago, NASA Put a Car on the Moon

science - Posted On:2021-07-27 14:44:59 Source: slashdot

The lunar rovers of Apollo 15, 16 and 17 parked American automotive culture on the lunar surface, and expanded the scientific range of the missions' astronaut explorers. From a report: Dave Scott was not about to pass by an interesting rock without stopping. It was July 31, 1971, and he and Jim Irwin, his fellow Apollo 15 astronaut, were the first people to drive on the moon. After a 6-hour inaugural jaunt in the new lunar rover, the two were heading back to their lander, the Falcon, when Mr. Scott made an unscheduled pit stop. West of a crater called Rhysling, Mr. Scott scrambled out of the rover and quickly picked up a black lava rock, full of holes formed by escaping gas. Mr. Scott and Mr. Irwin had been trained in geology and knew the specimen, a vesicular rock, would be valuable to scientists on Earth. They also knew that if they asked for permission to stop and get it, clock-watching mission managers would say no. So Mr. Scott made up a story that they stopped the rover because he was fidgeting with his seatbelt. The sample was discovered when the astronauts returned to Earth, Mr. Scott described what he'd done, and "Seatbelt Rock" became one of the most prized geologic finds from Apollo 15. Like many lunar samples returned to Earth by the final Apollo missions, Seatbelt Rock never would have been collected if the astronauts had not brought a car with them. Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 are the NASA lunar missions that tend to be remembered most vividly. But at the 50th anniversary of Apollo 15, which launched on July 26, 1971, some space enthusiasts, historians and authors are giving the lunar rover its due as one of the most enduring symbols of the American moon exploration program. Foldable, durable, battery-powered and built by Boeing and General Motors, the vehicle is seen by some as making the last three missions into the crowning achievement of the Apollo era. "Every mission in the crewed space program, dating back to Alan Shepard's first flight, had been laying the groundwork for the last three Apollo missions," said Earl Swift, author of a new book about the lunar rover, "Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings. You see NASA take all of that collected wisdom, gleaned over the previous decade in space, and apply it," Mr. Swift said. "It's a much more swashbuckling kind of science." Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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