Beyond Biology: Scientists Uncover a Universal “Missing Law of Evolution”

Nature Law Evolution Art

A new “law of increasing functional information” reveals that complex natural systems, beyond just life on Earth, evolve towards higher complexity. This discovery expands traditional evolutionary theory, offering insights from cosmology to astrobiology.

Evolution of plants, animals: “A very special case within a far larger natural phenomenon.” Similar marvels occur with stars, planets, minerals, other complex systems; When a novel configuration works well and function improves, evolution occurs.

A paper in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences today describes “a missing law of nature,” recognizing for the first time an important norm within the natural world’s workings.

In essence, the new law states that complex natural systems evolve to states of greater patterning, diversity, and complexity. In other words, evolution is not limited to life on Earth, it also occurs in other massively complex systems, from planets and stars to atoms, minerals, and more.

Authored by a nine-member team — leading scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), and Cornell University, and philosophers from the University of Colorado — the work was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Iridescent Opalized Ammonite

As Earth formed, new geologic processes, especially those related to the interaction of hot fluids with rock during igneous activity and plate tectonics, gave birth to over 1500 new mineral species (4.55 to 2.5 billion years ago). At 2.5 billion years ago, emerging biological life introduced oxygen into the atmosphere. This was a time of pivotal change, when photosynthesis began and the interaction of iron with oxygen-based minerals changed ancient life, providing the blueprint for our future evolution, together with minerals.
With the progress of the evolution of life from single-celled to multicelled organisms, and the formation of ecosystems, the mineralogy of the surface of the earth became more complex. The mineral diversity that was created fundamentally changed the direction and possibilities of evolution. Biodiversity leads to mineral diversity, and vice versa. The two systems, biological and mineral, interacted to create life as we know it today.
Credit: Dr. Robert Lavinsky

Historical Context and Modern Addition

“Macroscopic” laws of nature describe and explain phenomena experienced daily in the natural world. Natural laws related to forces and motion, gravity, electromagnetism, and energy, for example, were described more than 150 years ago.

The new work presents a modern addition — a macroscopic law recognizing evolution as a common feature of the natural world’s complex systems, which are characterized as follows:

  • They are formed from many different components, such as atoms, molecules, or cells, that can be arranged and rearranged repeatedly
  • Are subject to natural processes that cause countless different arrangements to be formed
  • Only a small fraction of all these configurations survive in a process called “selection for function.”

Regardless of whether the system is living or nonliving, when a novel configuration works well and function improves, evolution occurs.

“This is a superb, bold, broad, and transformational article. … The authors are approaching the fundamental issue of the increase in complexity of the evolving universe. The purpose is a search for a ‘missing law’ that is consistent with the known laws.

“At this stage of the development of these ideas, rather like the early concepts in the mid-19th century of coming to understand ‘energy’ and ‘entropy,’ open broad discussion is now essential.”

Stuart Kauffman, Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle WA

The Law of Increasing Functional Information

The authors’ “Law of Increasing Functional Information” states that the system will evolve “if many different configurations of the system undergo selection for one or more functions.”

“An important component of this proposed natural law is the idea of ‘selection for function,’” says Carnegie astrobiologist Dr. Michael L. Wong, first author of the study.

In the case of biology, Darwin equated function primarily with survival—the ability to live long enough to produce fertile offspring.

The new study expands that perspective, noting that at least three kinds of function occur in nature.

The most basic function is stability – stable arrangements of atoms or molecules are selected to continue. Also chosen to persist are dynamic systems with ongoing supplies of energy.

The third and most interesting function is “novelty”—the tendency of evolving systems to explore new configurations that sometimes lead to startling new behaviors or characteristics.

Life’s evolutionary history is rich with novelties—photosynthesis evolved when single cells learned to harness light energy, multicellular life evolved when cells learned to cooperate, and species evolved thanks to advantageous new behaviors such as swimming, walking, flying, and thinking.

“The study of Wong et al. is like a breeze of fresh air blowing over the difficult terrain at the trijunction of astrobiology, systems science and evolutionary theory. It follows in the steps of giants such as Erwin Schrödinger, Ilya Prigogine, Freeman Dyson and James Lovelock. In particular, it was Schrödinger who formulated the perennial puzzle: how can complexity increase — and drastically so! — in living systems, while they remain bound by the Second Law of thermodynamics? In the pile of attempts to resolve this conundrum in the course of the last 80 years, Wong et al. offer perhaps the best shot so far.”

“Their central idea, the formulation of the law of increasing functional information, is simple but subtle: a system will manifest an increase in functional information if its various configurations generated in time are selected for one or more functions. This, the authors claim, is the controversial ‘missing law’ of complexity, and they provide a bunch of excellent examples. From my admittedly quite subjective point of view, the most interesting ones pertain to life in radically different habitats like Titan or to evolutionary trajectories characterized by multiple exaptations of traits resulting in a dramatic increase in complexity. Does the correct answer to Schrödinger’s question lie in this direction? Only time will tell, but both my head and my gut are curiously positive on that one. Finally, another great merit of this study is worth pointing out: in this day and age of rabid Counter-Enlightenment on the loose, as well as relentless attacks on the freedom of thought and speech, we certainly need more unabashedly multidisciplinary and multicultural projects like this one.”

Milan Cirkovic, Astronomical Observatory of Belgrade, Serbia; The Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University

Evolution Beyond Life

The same sort of evolution happens in the mineral kingdom. The earliest minerals represent particularly stable arrangements of atoms. Those primordial minerals provided foundations for the next generations of minerals, which participated in life’s origins. The evolution of life and minerals are intertwined, as life uses minerals for shells, teeth, and bones.

Indeed, Earth’s minerals, which began with about 20 at the dawn of our Solar System, now number almost 6,000 known today thanks to ever more complex physical, chemical, and ultimately biological processes over 4.5 billion years.

In the case of stars, the paper notes that just two major elements – hydrogen and helium – formed the first stars shortly after the big bang. Those earliest stars used hydrogen and helium to make about 20 heavier chemical elements. And the next generation of stars built on that diversity to produce almost 100 more elements.

“Charles Darwin eloquently articulated the way plants and animals evolve by natural selection, with many variations and traits of individuals and many different configurations,” says co-author Robert M. Hazen of Carnegie Science, a leader of the research.

“We contend that Darwinian theory is just a very special, very important case within a far larger natural phenomenon. The notion that selection for function drives evolution applies equally to stars, atoms, minerals, and many other conceptually equivalent situations where many configurations are subjected to selective pressure.”

“The natural laws we recognize today cannot yet account for one astounding characteristic of our universe—the propensity of natural systems to “evolve.” As the authors of this study attest, the tendency to increase in complexity and function through time is not specific to biology, but is a fundamental property observed throughout the universe. Wong and colleagues have distilled a set of principles which provide a foundation for cross-disciplinary discourse on evolving systems. In so doing, their work will facilitate the study of self-organization and emergent complexity in the natural world.”

Corday Selden, Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University

Multidisciplinary Perspectives

The co-authors themselves represent a unique multi-disciplinary configuration: three philosophers of science, two astrobiologists, a data scientist, a mineralogist, and a theoretical physicist.

Says Dr. Wong: “In this new paper, we consider evolution in the broadest sense—change over time—which subsumes Darwinian evolution based upon the particulars of ‘descent with modification.’”

“The universe generates novel combinations of atoms, molecules, cells, etc. Those combinations that are stable and can go on to engender even more novelty will continue to evolve. This is what makes life the most striking example of evolution, but evolution is everywhere.”

“The paper “On the roles of function and selection in evolving systems” provides an innovative, compelling, and sound theoretical framework for the evolution of complex systems, encompassing both living and non-living systems. Pivotal in this new law is functional information, which quantitatively captures the possibilities a system has to perform a function. As some functions are indeed crucial for the survival of a living organism, this theory addresses the core of evolution and is open to quantitative assessment. I believe this contribution has also the merit of speaking to different scientific communities that might find a common ground for open and fruitful discussions on complexity and evolution.”

Andrea Roli, Assistant Professor, Università di Bologna.

Implications and Insights

Among many implications, the paper offers:

  1. Understanding into how differing systems possess varying degrees to which they can continue to evolve. “Potential complexity” or “future complexity” have been proposed as metrics of how much more complex an evolving system might become
  2. Insights into how the rate of evolution of some systems can be influenced artificially. The notion of functional information suggests that the rate of evolution in a system might be increased in at least three ways: (1) by increasing the number and/or diversity of interacting agents, (2) by increasing the number of different configurations of the system; and/or 3) by enhancing the selective pressure on the system (for example, in chemical systems by more frequent cycles of heating/cooling or wetting/drying).
  3. A deeper understanding of generative forces behind the creation and existence of complex phenomena in the universe, and the role of information in describing them
  4. An understanding of life in the context of other complex evolving systems. Life shares certain conceptual equivalencies with other complex evolving systems, but the authors point to a future research direction, asking if there is something distinct about how life processes information on functionality (see also
  5. Aiding the search for life elsewhere: if there is a demarcation between life and non-life that has to do with selection for function, can we identify the “rules of life” that allow us to discriminate that biotic dividing line in astrobiological investigations? (See also, “Did Life Exist on Mars? Other Planets? With AI’s Help, We May Know Soon”)
  6. At a time when evolving AI systems are an increasing concern, a predictive law of information that characterizes how both natural and symbolic systems evolve is especially welcome

Laws of nature – motion, gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics – etc. codify the general behavior of various macroscopic natural systems across space and time.

The “law of increasing functional information” published today complements the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy (disorder) of an isolated system increases over time (and heat always flows from hotter to colder objects).

Reference: “On the roles of function and selection in evolving systems” by Michael L. Wong, Carol E. Cleland, Daniel Arend, Stuart Bartlett, H. James Cleaves, Heather Demarest, Anirudh Prabhu, Jonathan I. Lunine and Robert M. Hazen, 16 October 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2310223120

32 Comments on "Beyond Biology: Scientists Uncover a Universal “Missing Law of Evolution”"

  1. John Froelich Ph.D mathematics | October 22, 2023 at 7:16 pm | Reply

    The whole argument is circular reasoning without calculation of probabilities. It like saying there is copper, zinc, carbon, hydrogen and therefore the TESLA will evolve.
    Just take a bird and watch it fly. That takes software. Every plane needs software to fly even if it only the human mind behind a stick. Who wrote that software? The software has to be so absolutely precise and able to navigate huge accelerations.
    SCIENCE IS HYPNOTICALLY DELUSIONAL. They just postulate some “principle”, pontificate ex-cathedra and there it is. The Chemistry of Life is impossible by random chance. DR. James Tour. Like the Medical system the National Academy of Sciences has produced nothing of value but to reinforce their dogmatic authority.

    • I tend to agree but . . . Make God not in your own image.

      Consider that the software is not written by a bearded guy at a keyboard.

      I suspect sun worshippers may have been closer to whoe the programmer is?

      • There are no pictures in the bible. So “a bearded guy” is an attempt at mockery. In turn I’m gonna mock you back.
        Consider that you are now using a device..typing things..

        Im sure you have typed MANY things. So much that the device can anticipate your next word.

        How did that happen?
        I wonder can I do that with my car? I tend to drive to the same places. So next time, I’m gonna get in the car and sit.. maybe it has evolved into turning on..
        My car tells me it requires an oil change.. mayr that evolved. The motor sees the need to remain lubricated..
        You know, these new chat bots are pretty smart.. I wonder will they evolve to know what they’re talking about ..because YOU clearly aren’t.

    • Charles Durrett N.N. (Not Nothing) | October 23, 2023 at 12:38 pm | Reply

      Aptus manet – the fit abides. Random and accidental are not the same. “Life” is not random – it is accidental.

      • Life is neither accidental nor random. It’s complexity and genius in many areas shows undeniable intelligent reasoning behind this ‘software’ full of logic. How do we know they are not, because if they went through a series of accidental situations there would be proof of all the many malfunctions in this accidental evolution process but there is nothing to show this at all, but there is proof of the opposite in fact. Coincidence does not favor accidents very long and there would be evidence of that. All we have is evidence of purpose and reasons for each and every design fitting into our world and having its own purpose for existing. We see these complex designs by great intelligence shown by the very perfectly designed hunting skills of several amazing species such as the Orca,or the Lion, but not only from simple perspective watching them hunt but also from studying in detail even the very proteins and cells each one and the micro robotic engines within their bloodstream and throughout the biological makeup showing unbelivable perfection in their many skills but survival instincts and killing capacity. Never have so many seen this so crystal clear than when they begin studying the anatomy from within and see these designs first hand from the macro level all the way up, it is simply perfection and yet the ones we study from centuries ago frozen in tundra are amazingly and almost impossibly even better than the current species today. Now we ask how is this possible when you claim this evolution is accidentally taking place ? Well many are starting to doubt the current paradigm, saying that it is simply way too naive and negligent. Its as if they know this already but they want us to promote that this happened by chance when it’s clear beyond any doubt that this suggestion is laughable !! No no no you may fool college kids but not someone who has studied them close up and under the microscope as well as seen the data from what even our eyes can’t see, the engineering desings at work inside it’s cells !! The differences between accidental and designed are well pronounced without a doubt and soon this will be documented if it is not already. We know its designs are way beyond our intelligence and we have struggled to copy them with much success. Truthfully this is where we get most of our designs and ideas for most of our technology is it not ? Yet we can agree it us beyond our understanding yet you deny this intelligence with the whole ‘accidental’ argument, am I wrong ? The way life is constructed in such an extremely intelligent, perfect pattern of organized methodical layers intricately woven into the very fibers of life as a fabric of absolute perfect efficiency that we admire and have never been able to replicate at any capacity not even close !! This invisible fabric lies within and between trillions upon trillions of seemless connections capable of so many endless sets of functions it’s very plausible that animals have certain narural abilities we can not even comprehend without end !! Life did not evolve and we CAN NEVER PROVE OTHERWISE. To deny our creator his right of pride in what he designed and made, including us and things for us !! Our very lives DO have a purpose and reason. It is by far so ignorant and huberous that we take from him what he so rightly deserves when we should be thankful without end and praise him endlessly for everything we have in life at all. We have so many good things but he has promised us much more if we follow his requests. Soon he will make himself known once more to the nations of this time and fur the last time man will never again rule over themselves and destroy the earth this way. We will have a newly cleaned up earth made new again with places worldwide more beautiful than anything we have ever seen as the earth will be turned into a paradise. We will not have death ever again after this current system of governments things today comes to their end for good and Gods kingdom takes over forever more and will never end !! There is only one true living God, our father and creator, the merciful amazing the embodiment of Love itself , full of loyal love for all to attain peace and happiness and true security with eternal life and happiness without war without pain without sickness without death no one will ever grow old no one will ever go blind or deaf ever and generations since the beginning of time will be resurrected to this earth as well to serve our greatful creator and heavenly Father as his son Jesus Christ rules over us as King with his 144000 anointed ones. We will become perfect humans as we were meant to be. The first step in learning this truth about history about earth about everything including the future and why we can be certain these things will happen …. Is to learn the name of your creator and heavenly Father …as Psalms 83:18 says “May people know that you, whose name is Jehovah, You alone are the Most High over all the earth”
        Go to and learn this truth and do not fall for the lies of this world , take the truth and search it out completely and liok for the proof and if you do search for it like hidden treasures you will find it !! In fact it may find you !!

        • A lot of babble in the beginning just to end up a bubble beater. Your choice of words in the beginning did lead suspicion to where you were going with your rant. So a good , but winded piece of writing.

        • Good comment! Apparently these geniuses forgot the second law of thermodynamics. And needless to say a chemical reaction is not same thing as chemical organization which is more complex than anything we humans can design, such as DNA in its homocyralic form, or a polymerase, or the proteins which take instructions to build a cell. They are blatantly blind.

      • It just accidentally that we are only male and female, so close to the sun not to get burned and not to freeze to death. To have seasons. Winter and summer. Do you also think it’s accidental that killers, murders are coming to God and Jesus is prison and their lives are now changed. What about people who never read the Bible and have encounters with Jesus like Muslims and make public testimony. What about when you’re thinking about something and it manifest, you don’t think it’s God. What about Good vs Evil. I don’t believe that’s evolution. It’s deeper. God is the creator. If you don’t believe me, ask God himself. Yes. If you don’t want to ask God then don’t bother replying something you haven’t tried. It takes no money to do. Any way I hope you find God because he loves you.

    • just as birds software (brains) has evolved if given enough time some sort of mecanical control could evolve. all that is nessisary for complexity to increase weather it is biologics or not is to be exposed to oscilations,vibration. everything that does anything requires some sort of oscilations without it there can be no motion no complexity. oscilations is the key to all existance.

      • Oscilation……yep thats the key that creates the evolution, in the slow step by step evolvement of universal enlightment & we have a bloody long way to go, but all is good nature will get there in the end.

  2. Atheist will only mock creationists, as it says they would in the bible, when it says, “the foolish will say, there is no God…” This portion of the post:
    2.5 billion years ago, emerging biological life introduced oxygen into the atmosphere

    THERE is the faith and God of the atheist.
    Rock to an atmosphere and life. Plant life that requires the air we breath out and in turn we require the oxygen the plants provide.

    THATS their God requiring faith.
    Blind belief does it not?
    By the way, fortunately, there was water. Useable water here for all of this to happen.

    Then there requires motion. A need. A push to adapt. Another faith. They will just say, “it’s natural..things adapt to survive”
    In fact, why do things die at all?

    Because of the atheists’ mocking mentality, they know that there is no real answer to any of this without including a master designer that exists out our environment

    So they will simply say, “you’re off your meds”
    “Bla bla bla sky daddy bla bla bla”

    Ask any atheist, “could it be that there are other dimensions and beings, other forms of life could exist in forms we can’t grasp in it? ”
    They will say, yes.
    Could that life, living in that other dimension be those angles and God, and they actually DID interact with humans in the past so they wrote it down?”

    And the answer? Well WHICH God..which writing?

    That’s a dodge of course. Because by asking such, they have to agree that such being could have done so.

    So to that I say, GET OFF YOUR BUTT AND FIND OUT.

    • If there is/was a(re) god(s) and he/she/it/they created the universe, where did he/she/it/they come from? Requiring a Prime Mover just kicks the can down the road.

    • who cares what the Bible says it was not written by God so of course some one using God as a crutch will say something like that to defend their ridiculous position. people think people who claim to see ufos are nuts but people who believe there is a magical entity who can do anything and knows everything is so much more crazy. even if there was a being who had a hand in our creation that does not automatically mean they are omnipresent or omnipotent just means they are more advanced than we are so far. there is more evidence against a so called God than there is fir one,in fact there is no evidence for one at all.

  3. So, I see they speak about 2.5 billion years ago.. problem, that’s the same period that they were claiming that giant rocks came and blotted out most of life, ain t it?

    And let’s not forget their claims about the evolving sun, which would be 2.5 billion years WEAKER in terms of dynamic energy.
    That “faint young sun” had to be excused away so as to continue their ridiculous claims of godlessness.
    So they came up with a crazy excuse to ignore Carl Sagan and his faint young sun paradox..what was it?
    “Well , uh…things didn’t REQUIRE the sun..that’s all…moving on” lol

    And you should see how they claim water got here.. water droplets in meteorites pulverized the earth, u til giant water world was made..

    Oh and by the way, life was in those rocks too..
    See? There you have it..


    Look up, “how did water get here”
    And prepare for comedy.

    • any explination that has a scientific understanding is way more believable than a magical being in the sky made it so. that is lazy,ignorant,and retards the advancement of civilization. God = magic it simple it takes no learning how the complex systems that have evolved over time and how all these systems have an explination that shows in a understandable and scientific way how they came to be and the way they work. it is just easier for lazy people to say God did it.

  4. I’ve been waiting for this kind of article to propose that Newton’s law of evolution is in parallel to Einstein’s law of relativity, meaning that evolution cannot exist without time and space cannot exist without time. both laws resemble a family like connection a brother and a sister both move in the same direction just with different modeling.

  5. Dr. J. Saint-Amour | October 23, 2023 at 9:44 am | Reply

    Teilard de Chardin was talking about universal increasing complexity over 60 years ago.

  6. Thank You LORD for all YOU CREATE FOR US!!!

    • Tark delimihalis | October 23, 2023 at 6:37 pm | Reply

      Oscilation……yep thats the key that creates the evolution, in the slow step by step evolvement of universal enlightment & we have a bloody long way to go, but all is good nature will get there in the end.

  7. Believing themselves to be intelligent, they showed themselves as fools. Though HE has made HIMSELF evident by all the works of HIS creation, they in their pride rejected HIM, and died in their sin.

    • But you see how that just primes you to reject anything that’s not consistent with your belief system, even though you have no reason to reject it, that isn’t entirely emotional. So even though Christianity is based entirely on faith and nothing else, you’ll see any criticism of it of it, inconsistencies within it etc, simply as evidence that other people “don’t get it” and are morons.

      I still consider myself to be a Christian but to just ignore that. The Bible wasn’t constructed some what arbitrarily, by Paul who was basically just traumatized by the loss of Jesus,

      and possibly with words inserted into it over the years that were not part of the original meaning or intent of Jesus at all, or involved huge assumptions about Hebrew, which is a notoriously difficult language to deconstruct,

      despite all that to just accept it even though it doesn’t make sense is just lemming s*** to me. Like Jesus running around in ancient Rome sees all this stuff that’s going on and everything that’s wrong with the world. But he takes time out of his day, and make sure that the authors are there to capture this moment where he singles out a single demographic to say the only like mean thing that he says ever in his life? We assume that that’s what happened and not that ancient Catholics f***** with it?

      The canonical Bible is just not Gods word alone, is not his word. and if that’s not true then God can tell me that when I die. But for the purposes of living in this world for the rest of my life, I’m just going to run off of that assumption.

      • Soon, there is going to be the rapture. It’s when there will be trumpet sounds, and after the trumpet sounds, God will lift his people from here. Also, God said people should be living by the Bible. Amen, and God bless you.
        * John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.

  8. Eric Langenfeld | October 23, 2023 at 9:41 pm | Reply

    Why are people interested in meeting spirituality and science. Truth and fact are not necessarily mutually inclusive. Like all paradoxes. Only a fool denies spiritual truths or thinks hard science avoids a leap of faith somewhere.

    Eurythypro: are things good because they please the Gods or does or is it good because the Gods say so? Never got an answer.

  9. Evolution for some, extinction for many. I wonder if the study found immune response systems a viable test for their theory. The perspective depends only on the scale of the scope you choose for your research. Making scopless conclusions is as useful to the science as passing laws on a state that can not ensure their promotion. In other words, they die off pretty fast.

  10. Check out videos from James Tour. You’ll understand why evolution is a myth. This article smacks of mysticism while denying the eternal CTEATOR. If these guys were so sure of theories, then why can’t it be sped up in a lab?

  11. Soon, there is going to be the rapture. It’s when there will be trumpet sounds, and after the trumpet sounds, God will lift his people from here. Also, God said people should be living by the Bible. Amen, and God bless you.
    * John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.

  12. So now the universe tends towards order and complexity?

  13. Finally some light on pre biological evolution. Onestep forward!

  14. The high complexity of this world clearly shows the hand of a designer. You may look up to the sky or down in the microscope.
    The formula billions of years plus nothing, equals Nothing. Read the Bible, and you will find the answers…so simple yet so difficult for some people….

  15. The article reads like a modern-day rehash of Herbert Spencer’s 19th Century ‘First Principles of a New System of Philosophy (1862). A brief excerpt from Wikipedia about Spencer effectively summarises this new article: “Spencer posited that all structures in the universe develop from a simple, undifferentiated, homogeneity to a complex, differentiated, heterogeneity while undergoing increasing integration of the differentiated parts. This evolutionary process could be observed, Spencer believed, throughout the cosmos. It was a universal law, applying to the stars and galaxies and to biological organisms, and to human social organisation and to the human mind. It differed from other scientific laws only in its greater generality, and the laws of the special sciences could be shown to be illustrations of this principle.”

    The 2nd law of Thermodynamics was similarly recognised as posing a potential problem for Spencer’s logic of ‘progress’ by Beatrice Webb in 1923. The 21st century authors appear to have answered Crane Brinton’s question: “Who now reads Herbert Spencer”!

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