Extensive remodeling of the Pseudomonas syringae pv. avellanae type III secretome associated with two independent host shifts onto hazelnut
© O'Brien et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2012
Received: 6 January 2012
Accepted: 16 July 2012
Published: 16 July 2012
Hazelnut (Corylus avellana) decline disease in Greece and Italy is caused by the convergent evolution of two distantly related lineages of Pseudomonas syringae pv. avellanae (Pav). We sequenced the genomes of three Pav isolates to determine if their convergent virulence phenotype had a common genetic basis due to either genetic exchange between lineages or parallel evolution.
We found little evidence for horizontal transfer (recombination) of genes between Pav lineages, but two large genomic islands (GIs) have been recently acquired by one of the lineages. Evolutionary analyses of the genes encoding type III secreted effectors (T3SEs) that are translocated into host cells and are important for both suppressing and eliciting defense responses show that the two Pav lineages have dramatically different T3SE profiles, with only two shared putatively functional T3SEs. One Pav lineage has undergone unprecedented secretome remodeling, including the acquisition of eleven new T3SEs and the loss or pseudogenization of 15, including five of the six core T3SE families that are present in the other Pav lineage. Molecular dating indicates that divergence within both of the Pav lineages predates their observation in the field. This suggest that both Pav lineages have been cryptically infecting hazelnut trees or wild relatives for many years, and that the emergence of hazelnut decline in the 1970s may have been due to changes in agricultural practice.
These data show that divergent lineages of P. syringae can converge on identical disease etiology on the same host plant using different virulence mechanisms and that dramatic shifts in the arsenal of T3SEs can accompany disease emergence.
KeywordsEffector Host specificity Molecular dating
Pseudomonas syringae is a Gram-negative plant pathogen that causes a spectrum of speck, spot and canker diseases on a range of plant hosts. It is divided into approximately 50 pathovars (pathogenic varieties) that are specialized for particular host plants and are generally unable to cause disease on other species. Multilocus sequence analysis (MLSA) has shown that many pathovars correspond to distinct evolutionary (monophyletic) lineages [1, 2]. A notable exception to this pattern is P. syringae pv. avellanae (Pav), where two distantly related lineages within P. syringae have converged upon a common disease phenotype on hazelnut (Corylus avellana) plantations in Greece and Italy. Pav-associated hazelnut decline characterized by wilting of branches and trunk cankers was first observed in Greece and Italy in the mid 1970s, though the disease was not formally described in Italy until the 1990s . MLSA has shown that all isolates from Greece form a distinct lineage related to pathogens of kiwifruit (P. syringae pv. actinidiae; Pan, a.k.a. Psa) and plum (P. syringae pv. morsprunorum; Pmp) in phylogroup 1. This phylogroup also includes a large number of pathogens of herbaceous plants, including the well-studied P. syringae pv. tomato strain Pto DC3000. In contrast, Italian isolates collected during outbreaks in the 1990s cluster together in phylogroup 2, along with pathogens of peas, cereals, and other plants, including the well-studied P. syringae pv. syringae strain Psy B728a. More recent outbreaks of hazelnut decline in Italy from 2002–2004 were caused by Pav that phylogenetically clusters with the Greek isolates in phylogroup 1.
In order to determine the genetic changes accompanying the evolution of hazelnut pathogenesis in these two independent lineages, we obtained draft whole genome sequences for the earliest isolate of the hazelnut decline pathogen, Pav BP631, a phylogroup 1 strain isolated from Drama, Greece in 1976 and for Pav Ve013 and Pav Ve037, two strains isolated in Rome, Italy in the early 1990s. The latter two strains represent the extremes of genetic diversity observed in phylogroup 2 Pav strains as determined by the MLSA analysis of Wang et al.. This MLSA analysis indicates that Pav Ve037 clusters with pea pathogens (P. syringae pv. pisi; Ppi) while the other strains group with pathogens of beets (P. syringae pv. aptata; Ptt) and barley (P. syringae pv. japonica; Pja) although with very weak phylogenetic support.
We compared these three draft genome sequences to 27 other complete or draft P. syringae genome sequences representing 16 pathovars, including seven phylogroup 1 strains and six phylogroup 2 strains [4, 7–17]. We performed ortholog analysis to identify instances of horizontal gene transfer between the two independent Pav lineages and looked in detail at the evolutionary histories of a number of candidate pathogenicity genes, including the type III secreted effectors (T3SEs) that are translocated into host cells and are important for both suppressing and eliciting defense responses. We show that the two lineages have dramatically different T3SE profiles and that Pav BP631 has undergone extensive secretome remodeling.
Genome sequencing and assembly
Genome statistics for strains sequenced in this study
Cluster # 1
43 M2 38 bp PE
38 M 38 bp MP
59 M 82 bp PE
43 M 40 bp MP
35 M 82 bp PE
45 M 40 bp MP
There were a total of 262 Pav- specific homology groups that lacked orthologs in any other Psy strain in the ortholog analysis section of the results. Approximately half of these were most similar to genes from other species in the gamma-Proteobacteria, while another 25% were most similar to genes from beta-Proteobacterial species (Figure 3b). Over half of the ORFs with gamma-Proteobacterial hits matched genes from other Pseudomonas species, while ~15% were to genes from the plant pathogen Xanthomonas campestris. Of the 142 Pav-specific genes in Pav Ve013, 101 were located in two large gene clusters. One of these was a 110 kb cluster of 43 genes inserted at a tRNA locus in a region that is syntenic between Pav Ve013 and Psy B728a (Additional file 1: Figure S1). Of these genes, 32 are most similar to Xanthomonas campestris 8004 genes (>50% overlap; E-value <10-10), including a type IV secretion gene and a transposase gene located at one end of the cluster. The second cluster is 175 kb in length and consists of 58 genes, including 17 that are shared with Pav Ve037 (Additional file 2: Figure S2). The central core of this region comprises a 49 kb PFGI-1 type integrative conjugative element (ICE), most of which is homologous to an ICE from Pseudomonas fluorescens SWB25.
Recombination and phylogenetic analysis
Comparisons of genealogies for each gene greater than 300 bp in length to the genome tree identified seven putatively recombinant genes where Pav BP631 is sister to one or both of the other Pav strains. However, in two cases all but one of the sequences are from Pav strains, so Pav BP631 necessarily has to be sister to other Pav strains in the unrooted tree. Three of the remaining five have very poor branch support. The remaining two putatively recombinant genes, a GAD-like protein and a putative prophage lysozyme, cluster Pav BP631 with one of the other Pav strains, but not both. In both cases the gene trees are highly incongruent with the core genome phylogeny, so it is not possible to determine the direction of transfer. Indeed, there are relatively long terminal branches leading to the Pav strains, suggesting that both Pav strains horizontally acquired the gene from other un-sequenced strains or that their relation may be an artifact of long-branch attraction.
Divergence time estimates for Pav lineages
Age of Most Recent Common Ancestor (mean, 95% CI)1
Phylogroup 1 Pav
Phylogroup 2 Pav
E. coli-Salmonella (140 MYA2) 
183 MYA (92.8-300)
3.16 MYA (0.831-6.39)
29.5 MYA (16.9-44.5)
3.88 MYA (0.945-8.02)
17.6 MYA (7.10-29.8)
171 MYA (93.7-272)
10.1 MYA (2.62-19.5)
34.3 MYA (17.9-54.8)
153 MYA (66.4-260)
5.23 MYA (1.61-9.80)
MRSA (1990) 
Type III secreted effectors
There are dramatic differences in the number of T3SE homologs encoded in the genome of Pav BP631 versus the two other strains (Figure 4). Pav BP631 has homologs of 38 T3SEs, of which five have frameshift mutations and four have transposon insertions. There are partial sequences of three additional T3SEs, suggesting that they are truncated. However, they are located at the ends of scaffolds, so we are unable to confirm this. The entire sequence of a fourth T3SE that is also located at the end of a scaffold, hopG1, is present except for the stop codon. In contrast, Pav Ve013 and Pav Ve037 have homologs of only twelve and eleven T3SEs respectively, and one of these, hopAG1, is disrupted by a frameshift in Pav Ve037.
Only six T3SE homologs are common to all three Pav strains, and four of these are putatively non-functional in Pav BP631. Three of these shared T3SEs (avrE1, hopM1, and hopAA1) are also present in all other P. syringae strains and have genealogical histories congruent with the core genome phylogeny of the species, though hopM1 is truncated in many strains. These three T3SEs are located in the conserved effector locus (CEL) that flanks the type III secretion system structural genes. The Pav BP631 hopM1 locus has a number of frameshift mutations, while the avrE1 gene contains a mutation in the first codon, changing GTG to GTA, which is a highly-atypical start codon that very likely severely reduces or completely disrupts translation . The only shared and putatively functional T3SE in the CEL is hopAA1.
The other T3SE homologs that are present in all three Pav strains are hopAI1, which is truncated in Pav BP631, hopX1, which has a frameshift in Pav BP631, and hopAZ1. All three Pav strains carry hopX1 in the exchangeable effector locus (EEL), which is located on the opposite side of the type III secretion system structural genes as the CEL, and which contains a variable assortment of T3SEs that are flanked by conserved genes. The EEL of Pav Ve013 and Pav Ve037 also contain avrB3 while the EEL of Pav BP631 contains a hopF2 sequence that has been disrupted by a transposase. Both hopX1 and hopAI1 appear to have been acquired independently by the two Pav lineages after their divergence from their most recent non-Pav common ancestor. The hopAZ1 T3SE is particularly interesting since it is intact and putatively functional in all three Pav strains, yet appears to have been acquired independently by all three. No Pav HopAZ1 sequence shares more than 71% amino acid identity with any other Pav sequence, and they each form very strongly supported distinct phylogenetic clusters with other HopAZ1 alleles (Additional file 3: Figure S3).
Five other T3SEs are present in the majority of P. syringae strains and have phylogenies congruent with the core genome. These include two that were lost in the common ancestor of all phylogroup 2 strains (hopR1 and hopAS1) and three that have recently been lost in the phylogroup 1 Pav lineage (hopI1, hopAH1 and hopAG1). All other Pav T3SEs have been acquired by horizontal transfer since the two Pav lineages diverged from each other. In the phylogroup 2 lineage, avrB3 was acquired by the common ancestor of all phylogroup 2 strains, hopBF1 was acquired by the common ancestor of phylogroup 2 Pav, and hopBA1 was acquired by Pav Ve013 since its divergence from Pav Ve037. In the phylogroup 1 lineage, six T3SEs were acquired by the common ancestor of all phylogroup 1 strains. Nine additional T3SEs (plus hopAZ1) were acquired by the common ancestor of Pav BP631, Pmp 302280 and Pan 302191. However, the majority of T3SE gain has occurred since Pav BP631 diverged from its common ancestor with Pmp 302280 and Pan 302191 (15, plus hopX1 and hopAI1), almost half of which are pseudogenes.
The hazelnut decline pathogen P. syringae pv. avellanae provides a striking example of convergent evolution of host-specificity. While both Pav lineages are part of the P. syringae species complex, one must go back to the origin of the species complex to find their most recent common ancestor . The fact that these two lineages began causing disease on hazelnut at roughly the same time and give rise to similar disease phenotypes makes it seem unlikely that their convergent evolution occurred entirely independently. However, we find almost no evidence of genetic exchange between these lineages, and little similarity in their respective virulence gene complements.
Hazelnut decline was first described in Greece caused by phylogroup 1 Pav, yet there is strong evidence that phylogroup 2 Pav emerged first. MLSA studies show that the phylogroup 2 Pav clade, which is restricted to Italian isolates, has over four times the genetic diversity found among the phylogroup 1 Pav strains, which include both Greek and Italian isolates . This is significant since the extent of genetic diversity is usually associated with evolutionary age (baring the influence of certain evolutionary process or demographic changes). This is borne out by our molecular dating results. There is large variation in absolute divergence times depending on the substitution rate used, as rates based on fossil evidence  are several orders of magnitude higher than rates based on emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria , diversification within hosts [21, 24], or ancient DNA . Despite these limitations, one clear point is that divergence times are three to ten times older for phylogroup 2 Pav than for phylogroup 1 Pav. Indeed, even the most rapid substitution rates result in estimated divergence times for both lineages that predate the emergence of hazelnut decline by thousands of years.
The finding that Pav has been diversifying for a long period of time without being observed in the field is surprising. In Greece, Pav had a particularly heavy impact on the hazelnut cultivar Palaz during the late 1970s . This cultivar was introduced from Turkey in the late 1960s where there are no records of hazelnut bacterial canker. In contrast, there has been a long history of hazelnut cultivation in Italy, although the Palaz cultivar is not grown. Italian hazelnut cultivation increased rapidly during the decades leading up to the first observed outbreak during the 1970s, going from 3500 hectares in 1945 to almost 20,000 hectares by 1990 in the province of Viterbo . Much of the new cultivation in both Greece and Italy occurred on marginal lands with acidic soils, which are conditions that are likely to make hazelnut more susceptible to Pav infection.
How can the long time since Pav divergence be reconciled with the recent occurrence of hazelnut decline? Microbiological surveys of in Italy have found that wild hazelnut trees are often infected by phylogroup 2 Pav, suggesting that wild trees might act as a reservoir. It is possible that phylogroup 1 Pav are associated with wild hazelnut in Greece, but similar surveys have not been carried out. Taken together, these data strongly suggest that both Pav lineages have been cryptically infecting hazelnut trees or wild relatives for a long time, and that the emergence of hazelnut decline in the 1970s was most probably due to changes in agricultural practice.
While there is no evidence of horizontal transfer between Pav lineages, we do find a large number of genes that have been horizontally acquired from other bacteria. Over 250 ORFs from the three Pav genomes lack orthologs in any other sequenced P. syringae strain. This includes over 200 genes that are present in one of the phylogroup 2 Pav strains but not the other, suggesting extensive gene acquisition and loss in this lineage. Over 80% of these genes have homologs in other Proteobacteria. Many of the strain-specific genes are organized into large genomic islands with signatures of mobile elements. Two of these genomic islands are homologous to regions found in other plant-associated bacteria, although the genetic similarity is low. This suggests either that the genetic exchange occurred in the distant past or that the donor strain is only distantly related to the sequenced strains in the database. It would be interesting to sequence other hazelnut-associated bacteria such Xanthomonas arbicola pv. corylina, which is responsible for hazelnut blight and Pseudomonas fluorescens strains associated with the roots of hazelnut trees.
A remarkable feature of evolution of phylogroup 1 Pav is the extremely fluid nature of their T3SE repertoires. Like other phylogroup 1 strains, the frequency of T3SE acquisition is extremely high, with 27 T3SEs acquired since it diverged from the common ancestor of the group. However, the rate of T3SE loss is much higher than has been documented for any other P. syringae strain. A total of twelve Pav BP631 T3SEs are inferred to be non-functional. By comparison, the strain with the second most T3SE pseudogenes is Pto DC3000 with seven . All of the pseudogenization events in Pav BP631 appear to have happened since it diverged from Pmp 302280 and Pan 302091. Indeed, seven of them involve T3SEs that were acquired since this divergence, meaning that they were either acquired as nonfunctional genes or that they became pseudogenes after acquisition. The frequency of T3SE gain and loss is much lower in the phylogroup 2 Pav strains, with six and five gains for Pav Ve013 and Pav Ve037 respectively since they diverged from other phylogroup 2 strains. This is typical of the phylogroup as a whole, with three other strains that have acquired six or less T3SEs and the largest number of T3SE gains being twelve in Ppi 1704B.
Two of the Pav BP631 T3SE putative pseudogenes, avrE1 and hopM1, are notable because they are located in the CEL, which is present in all P. syringae strains with canonical hrp/hrc type III secretion systems. AvrE1 is essential for virulence in some P. syringae strains , but is functionally redundant with HopM1 in Pto DC3000, where it suppresses salicylic acid-mediated immunity . Frameshift mutations and truncations are common in hopM1, including in Pph 1448A , P. syringae pv. aptata DSM 50252  and Pto T1 . To date, all sequenced strains have had intact avrE1 genes, except for Psv 3335 , which has a contig break in the gene and Por 1_6, which has a premature stop codon, but has an intact hopM1 gene . Homologs of avrE are also present in a number of other plant pathogens, including Erwinia amylovora and Pantoea stewartii, where it is essential for virulence [30–32]. Since P. syringae mutants lacking both of these T3SEs have strongly impaired virulence  it is unclear how Pav BP631 is able to establish infection without functional copies of either gene. It is possible that HopR1  or another uncharacterized T3SE compensate for the loss of AvrE and HopM1 in hazelnut. Alternatively, a low level of translation might be initiated off the highly-atypical GTA start codon in avrE or another in-frame start codon might be used, though this would be likely to have drastic effects on the N-terminal secretion signal and there are no other obvious candidates for ribosome binding sites.
Of the twelve putatively non-functional T3SEs in Pav BP631, four have intact homologs in phylogroup 2 Pav. These include the two CEL T3SEs discussed above and two T3SEs (hopX1 and hopAI1) that were independently acquired in each Pav lineage since they diverged from their closest sequenced relatives. Furthermore, three additional T3SEs that are present in phylogroup 2 Pav are inferred to have been lost completely in Pav BP631 since it's divergence from Pmp and Pan. This striking pattern suggests that phylogroup 1 Pav BP631 was under strong selective pressure to lose T3SEs deployed by the other Pav lineage.
The only putatively functional T3SEs that are common among the three Pav strains are HopAA1 and HopAZ1. HopAA1 is encoded in the CEL and descended from the common ancestor of P. syringae. It has been shown to play a role in the suppression of innate immunity in Arabidopsis . Pav BP631 also carries a paralogous copy (in-paralog) of hopAA1 in addition to the one in the CEL. This paralogous hopAA1 allele is also present in the two strong Arabidopsis pathogens Pto DC3000 and Pma ES4326. One of the most interesting findings is that hopAZ1 was independently acquired in all three Pav strains, which points to HopAZ1 as a promising candidate for modulating hazelnut host specificity. Unfortunately, this T3SE has not been functionally characterized and has no conserved domains. HopAZ1 alleles are present in twelve of the 29 P. syringae strains with sequenced genomes and dispersed among four of five phylogroups. A genealogical analysis of the hopAZ1 family shows strong discordance from the evolutionary history of the core genome, indicating frequent horizontal transmission of this T3SE family (Additional file 3: Figure S3).
Our comparative genomic analysis of three Pav isolates has further confirmed convergent evolution of two independent lineages onto hazelnut, and that this convergence is not due to genetic exchange between lineages. Furthermore, the divergence in T3SE complements suggests that the molecular mechanisms of defense evasion are distinct in each lineage. There has been particularly extensive remodeling of its T3SE repertoire in the more recently emerged lineage possibly in response to recognition by host factors that have coevolved with the T3SEs deployed by the other lineage. However, both lineages have been diversifying as hazelnut pathogens since long before the initial hazelnut decline outbreak was first documented in 1976. This suggests that changes in agricultural practice such as the propagation of new cultivars in Greece in the 1960s and 70s and the expansion of hazelnut cultivation into marginal habitats in Italy may have provided suitable conditions for the epidemic emergence of previously cryptic pathogens. While this scenario is clearly conjecture, we now have a number of strong candidate loci to pursue. Functional characterization of these loci in the future may reveal the key steps that these two distinct lineages took in order to subvert the hazelnut immune system.
Sequencing and genome assembly followed the methods described in . Briefly, cells were harvested from 1 mL of stationary-phase culture and DNA was isolated using the Gram-negative bacterial culture protocol of the Puregene Genomic DNA Purification Kit (Qiagen Canada, Toronto, ON) using double volumes of each reagent, repeating the protein precipitation step twice, and spooling the DNA during the precipitation step. Paired-end and mate-pair sequencing libraries were prepared using sample preparation kits from Illumina (San Diego, CA). DNA was sheared to 200 base pairs (bp) for the paired-end libraries and to 3 kilobases (kb) for the mate-pair libraries using a Covaris S-series sample preparation system. Each library was run on a single lane of an Illumina GA IIx sequencer, for 38 cycles per end, except for the Pav Ve013 and Pav Ve037 paired-end libraries, which were run for 82 cycles per end. Paired-end reads were assembled using the CLC Genomics Workbench (Århus, Denmark), using the short-read de novo assembler for Pav BP631 and the long-read assembler for the other strains. The resultant contigs were scaffolded with the mate-pair data using SSPACE . Scaffolds were ordered and oriented relative to the most closely related fully sequenced genome sequence (Pto DC3000 for Pav BP631; Psy B728a for the other strains) using the contig mover tool in Mauve . Automated gene prediction and annotation was carried out using the RAST annotation server . These Whole Genome Shotgun projects have been deposited at DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank under the accession numbers AKBS00000000 (Pav BP631), AKCJ00000000 (Pav Ve013) and AKCK00000000 (Pav Ve037). The versions described in this paper are the first versions, AKBS01000000, AKCJ01000000 and AKCK01000000. Our methods have been shown to correctly assemble >95% of the coding sequences, including >98% of single-copy genes for the fully sequenced strain P. syringae pv. phaseolicola (Pph) 1448A .
The amino acid translations of the predicted ORFs from each strain were compared to each other and to those from 26 other publically available P. syringae genome sequences using BLAST  and were grouped into orthologous gene families using orthoMCL . Pav ORFs that were less than 300 bp in length and that did not have orthologs in any other strain were excluded from further analyses. The DNA sequences of the remaining Pav-specific ORFs were compared to all other strains using BLASTn and those that matched over at least 50% of their length with an E-value < 10-20 were also excluded. The amino acid translations of the remaining Pav-specific genes were searched against GenBank using BLASTp to determine putative functions and the taxonomic identities of donor strains. Genomic scaffolds containing blocks of Pav-specific genes were compared to the genome sequences of the most closely related Pav reference strain and to the database strain with the most hits to ORFs in the cluster using BLASTn and similarities were visualized using the Artemis Comparison Tool .
Amino acid sequences of ortholog groups were aligned using MUSCLE , and back-translated to DNA alignments using TranslatorX . PhyML  was used to infer phylogenies for each ortholog group and phylogenetic confidence was determined by the approximate likelihood-ratio test for branches (aLRT) method . PhyML was also used to infer the core genome phylogeny by concatenating the aligned sequences of each ortholog group with one representative sequence in each strain and removing conserved alignment positions. Recombination between Pav lineages was detected by identifying gene trees in which Pav BP631 formed a monophyletic group with one or both of the other Pav strains.
In addition to the whole-genome ortholog analysis, we identified T3SE pseudogenes and gene fragments by BLASTing all of the amino acid sequences of T3SEs in the database at http://www.pseudomonas-syringae.org against the Pav genome sequences, as well as 24 other draft Psy genome sequences using tBLASTn. Homologous DNA sequences were extracted and examined for truncations, frameshifts, contig breaks (usually caused by the presence of transposases or other multi-copy elements disrupting the coding sequences), and chimeric proteins. Sanger sequencing was used to fill contig gaps in Pav T3SE orthologs and to confirm frameshift mutations and transposon insertions using primers flanking each gap. Sequences lacking frameshifts were translated to amino acid sequences, aligned using MUSCLE, and back-translated to DNA alignments using TranslatorX . Sequences with frameshifts were added to the nucleotide alignments using MAFFT . Phylogenies were inferred for each alignment using PhyML. Gains and loss of each T3SE family was mapped onto the core genome phylogeny by identifying clades in each T3SE gene tree that are congruent with the core genome phylogeny, allowing for gene loss in some lineages.
Divergence times were estimated for the most recent common ancestor of each of the Pav lineages and for P. syringae as a whole using the MLSA dataset from Wang et al.. This included partial sequences of four protein-coding genes for ten phylogroup 1 Pav strains and twelve phylogroup 2 Pav strains, as well as 110 additional P. syringae strains. Analyses were carried out using an uncorrelated lognormal relaxed molecular clock in BEAST v1.6.2  with unlinked trees, and substitution models, allowing for recombination between loci. The HKY substitution model was used with gamma-distributed rate variation, with separate partitions for codon positions 1 + 2 and for third positions. Substitution rates were set to published rates based on the split of Escherichia coli and Salmonella and the emergence of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) . Two independent Markov chains were run for 50 Million generations and results were combined for parameter estimates.
Conserved effector locus
Exchangeable effector locus
Multilocus sequence analysis
Millions of years ago
Type III secreted effector
P. syringae pv. actinidiae
Pseudomonas syringae pv. avellanae
P. syringae pv. japonica
P. syringae pv. morsprunorum
P. syringae pv. pisi
P. syringae pv. syringae
P. syringae pv. tomato
P. syringae pv. aptata.
This work was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada and the Canada Research Chairs Program to DSG.
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