8 Ways to Make Vampires Realistic

8 Ways to Make Vampires Realistic

Can we make a biologically believable vampire?

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But... Why? What is the point? I mean, yes, you can hedge some numbers in order to getting a theoretically possible vampire-like creature that doesn't obviously contradict any scientific laws, but in doing so you remove most of the reasons to have vampires in the first place. After all the changes you've made, you no longer have an interesting creature. You just have a buff serial killer cannibal with a pale complexion and some night vision goggles.

What story purpose is served by explaining the biology behind a horror monster? A good chunk of fear comes from the unknown, and around the time you've charted the entire digestive system and scientifically classified the medical illnesses the creature suffers you've turned what was a mysterious terror of the night into a routine obstacle to be overcome.

Or we could just say they're magic. This can lead to fun things like flying and being ridiculously flammable for no particular reason.

I like. Reminds me of a tv program called "The Last Dragon" which had an anthropologist discovering a (fairly) scientifically plausible body of a dragon.

However, your vampires are still lacking one particular aspect common to the mythology - you haven't given them a reason to live in stormy castles and attempt to seduce any guests that come by... (Though that could just be a cultural thing I guess...)

EDIT:
Pretty sure that "The Strain" starts off as scientifically plausible with decent explanations, but eventually runs into stuff that is more magical - flight, psychic communication and an inability to cross water. This is from reading the book though, don't know if the TV series will be exactly the same.

Falterfire:
snip

I think you might have missed the point of the article, namely that there is no point; this is just a silly thought experiment to see if vampires are theoretically biologically possible. That's why some of the answers (Like immortality and regeneration) are little more than shrugs and, "It happens somewhere in nature," without trying to come up with hard scientific theory. He's not advocating their use, or disregarding magical vampires as appropriate monsters.

The_Darkness:

However, your vampires are still lacking one particular aspect common to the mythology - you haven't given them a reason to live in stormy castles and attempt to seduce any guests that come by... (Though that could just be a cultural thing I guess...)

Biological urges and basic reasoning encourage them to go to places with less sunlight (like Romania? I don't know the weather there), they like old castles because they are safe refuges, and they seduce people because that's a smart hunting strategy (much easier to lure occasional prey then to attack each target by force, especially when dealing with a pack animal like humans).

So essentially these biologically plausible vampires would be very close, if not identical, to the creatures seen in "The Descent". They are albinos, spend all of their time in the dark so all their senses are fine-tuned for that environment, and their physiology predates homosapiens, which would grant them increased strength and an instinctive ferocity that modern man has lost. Plus they eat meat, all kinds of meat whether it be deer, raccoon, or humans in deep caving gear that may wander into their lair.

Thunderous Cacophony:

The_Darkness:

However, your vampires are still lacking one particular aspect common to the mythology - you haven't given them a reason to live in stormy castles and attempt to seduce any guests that come by... (Though that could just be a cultural thing I guess...)

Biological urges and basic reasoning encourage them to go to places with less sunlight (like Romania? I don't know the weather there), they like old castles because they are safe refuges, and they seduce people because that's a smart hunting strategy (much easier to lure occasional prey then to attack each target by force, especially when dealing with a pack animal like humans).

Luring prey is not unheard of in nature - see the Anglerfish. It would make Twilight a whole lot better if Edward's diamond body was used to lure teenage girls with beautiful sparklies.

Picking off lonesome hiking visitors is also good practice - they won't be missed, like picking off stragglers from the heard.

As interesting as this article is, it kind of misses the point. The vampire is by its very essence a supernatural being infused with evil.

Nuxxy:

Luring prey is not unheard of in nature - see the Anglerfish. It would make Twilight a whole lot better if Edward's diamond body was used to lure teenage girls with beautiful sparklies.
.

That's a version of Twilight that I would actually have read/watched.

One more detail to add to the Wiki entry of Homo Vampiris would be 'low birthrates', otherwise an immortal regenerating creature would eventually overwhelm the prey populations it had evolved to feed on. We'd never have gotten to six billion people on the planet if we'd have progressively more predators feeding off our small prehistoric tribes at a rate of several individuals per year pear predator. Or else their hibernation and reproduction cycle would have to be on a thirty, fifty year or centennial basis.

Then the interesting question would be how they would handle modern society, where their food source and natural habitat has suddenly and radially altered. Secrecy would now be paramount, as we could easily wipe them out if they came to light by modern weaponry and sheer numbers if it came to that, yet the ways they could be discovered via cameras and detective work of their feeding sites would increase. I see vampires pushed to the edges of our societies, their numbers at risk. I can hear David Attenborough commenting the documentary already...

Nuxxy:

Thunderous Cacophony:

The_Darkness:

However, your vampires are still lacking one particular aspect common to the mythology - you haven't given them a reason to live in stormy castles and attempt to seduce any guests that come by... (Though that could just be a cultural thing I guess...)

Biological urges and basic reasoning encourage them to go to places with less sunlight (like Romania? I don't know the weather there), they like old castles because they are safe refuges, and they seduce people because that's a smart hunting strategy (much easier to lure occasional prey then to attack each target by force, especially when dealing with a pack animal like humans).

Luring prey is not unheard of in nature - see the Anglerfish. It would make Twilight a whole lot better if Edward's diamond body was used to lure teenage girls with beautiful sparklies.

Picking off lonesome hiking visitors is also good practice - they won't be missed, like picking off stragglers from the heard.

Maybe vampires, being an offshoot of human evolution, would be able to breed with humans, like early man could with Neanderthals and others? Since vampires tend to be quite solitary creatures, or living in covens, they are territorial in terms of space and food unless favouring the protection offered by a powerful alpha male or female. In this way, they might choose to prey on humans to fulfill sexual needs as well as hunger, and perhaps imprison the impregnated human for the duration of the pregnancy. Then if the baby is vampiric, they'd likely raise it in secret (in case of predators, obviously) and if not, they might just eat it.

In terms of modern vampires, however, their culture would have evolved alongside our own, given our relative similarities and likely mingling, and they would mimic our customs and morals, so a lot of the biologically driven actions might well be replaced simply by our own societal constraints. Why would a vampire want to take a human wife? Because they're naturally predisposed against their own kind, with the exception of a hierarchy dictated by whatever hierarchies solo animals can find themselves dictated by.

Thyunda:

Maybe vampires, being an offshoot of human evolution, would be able to breed with humans, like early man could with Neanderthals and others? Since vampires tend to be quite solitary creatures, or living in covens, they are territorial in terms of space and food unless favouring the protection offered by a powerful alpha male or female. In this way, they might choose to prey on humans to fulfill sexual needs as well as hunger, and perhaps imprison the impregnated human for the duration of the pregnancy. Then if the baby is vampiric, they'd likely raise it in secret (in case of predators, obviously) and if not, they might just eat it.

As we're trying to be realistic here, that's not how genetics works. There wouldn't be any 'ifs' in such a circumstance, the offspring would be a hybrid. Assuming breeding is even possible, the amount of genomic changes for this 'realistic' vampire would most likely render them completely incapable of reproduction with humans.

You wouldn't get H. vampiris or [H. sapiens]. Best case scenario, Blade-esque Daywalker, worst case scenario an albino cannibal cripple. Most likely scenario, some sterile Liger-style creature. All of these circumstances do not help propagate the vampire species, all that would likely do is slowly spread the more advantageous vampire traits (strength, healing) through the human population (assuming any of the hybrids are fertile).

Why can't we just go back to when vampires were just sources of loot and XP?

Falterfire:
snip, again

I quite often enjoy watching a sci-fi movie or reading on monsters etc. and trying to imagine how such things might be possible. Indeed in high school my friends and I did this very subject for a science project. I see this as more of a tangential learning experience: in one decidedly cool monster lies the opportunity for one to learn dozens of things in a very interesting context, which is actually, I feel, the point of this article.

No doubt this does degrade the horror of the vampire but I would say that this was first accomplished around the 90's when "interview with a vampire" was published, and has been descending since.

On a side note I could perhaps contrive a manner in which a vampire would have supernatural powers and still be scientifically tenable. I point to the "laundry files" series by Charles Stross, which presents some interesting possibilities resultant from some conclusions in string theory. I do highly recommend this, I got a physics boner from it.

I liked the Near Dark vampires. I think the worse thing ever i hate in vampire movies are when they hiss. Hate that.

Megalodon:

Thyunda:

Maybe vampires, being an offshoot of human evolution, would be able to breed with humans, like early man could with Neanderthals and others? Since vampires tend to be quite solitary creatures, or living in covens, they are territorial in terms of space and food unless favouring the protection offered by a powerful alpha male or female. In this way, they might choose to prey on humans to fulfill sexual needs as well as hunger, and perhaps imprison the impregnated human for the duration of the pregnancy. Then if the baby is vampiric, they'd likely raise it in secret (in case of predators, obviously) and if not, they might just eat it.

As we're trying to be realistic here, that's not how genetics works. There wouldn't be any 'ifs' in such a circumstance, the offspring would be a hybrid. Assuming breeding is even possible, the amount of genomic changes for this 'realistic' vampire would most likely render them completely incapable of reproduction with humans.

You wouldn't get H. vampiris or [H. sapiens]. Best case scenario, Blade-esque Daywalker, worst case scenario an albino cannibal cripple. Most likely scenario, some sterile Liger-style creature. All of these circumstances do not help propagate the vampire species, all that would likely do is slowly spread the more advantageous vampire traits (strength, healing) through the human population (assuming any of the hybrids are fertile).

Would it? Our ancestors were different enough to the Neanderthals to be considered different species, yet those hybrids were pretty lively.

Remus:
So essentially these biologically plausible vampires would be very close, if not identical, to the creatures seen in "The Descent". They are albinos, spend all of their time in the dark so all their senses are fine-tuned for that environment, and their physiology predates homosapiens, which would grant them increased strength and an instinctive ferocity that modern man has lost. Plus they eat meat, all kinds of meat whether it be deer, raccoon, or humans in deep caving gear that may wander into their lair.

Thence we have ghouls. Vampires are quite specific things. Blood is nonnegotible.

Fascinating. I'm actually thinking of writing an urban fantasy story, maybe I could incorporate some of these ideas?

(Though my take on the "aversion to garlic" thing is that a vampire's enhanced senses can't take the pungent garlic scent, That'd work, right?)

The truth is they need to/be:

1. Powerful.

2. Undead.

3. Scary.

4. Intelligent.

5. Night owls.

6. Feed on blood.

Obey these 6 things and you can do whatever you want with them.

Thyunda:

Would it? Our ancestors were different enough to the Neanderthals to be considered different species, yet those hybrids were pretty lively.

Is it known that Human-Neanderthal pairings produced fertile offspring?
Even if that case could produce fertile offspring. The differences between a Human and a Neanderthal would be positively petty compared to the differences between these vampires and humans, the digestive alterations alone would likely be enough to categorise the vampires as a different genus to humans, so we'd probably be lookiong at V. vampiris rather than H. vampiris

And yes, extended 'vampire'/hybrid-human breeding (the most common of the possible variations, given the relative population size and limited social groupings of vampires, and assumiong such pairings are possible) would realistically result in a diffusion of 'vampiric' traits as generations passed, as the amount of 'vampire' genes would essentially be diluted every breeding with more human ones. Only vampire-vampire pairings would propagate full vampires, and given the retaliative likelihood of pairings, the end result would either be a moratorium on interbreeding, or the vampires would simply be out-bred.

Plus of course, if such a human predator existed during our species infancy, then they would've most likely either prevented Humanity becoming the dominant species on the planet, stalling development at the hunter gatherer tribal level. Or been hunted to extinction in reprisal, because if there's one thing humans are good at, its hunting things to extinction.

Thyunda:
Would it? Our ancestors were different enough to the Neanderthals to be considered different species, yet those hybrids were pretty lively.

We get a bit funny about it with humans, because we like to think we're special, but generally speaking one of the most major definitions for a species is a group which can interbreed. If we could interbreed successfully with Neanderthals they would most correctly be a sub species (Homo sapiens neanderthalensis) rather than a species.

It seems likely that our ancestors interbred with neanderthals, but the question is are we enough like out ancestors that modern humans could do the same.

Falterfire:
But... Why? What is the point? I mean, yes, you can hedge some numbers in order to getting a theoretically possible vampire-like creature that doesn't obviously contradict any scientific laws, but in doing so you remove most of the reasons to have vampires in the first place. After all the changes you've made, you no longer have an interesting creature. You just have a buff serial killer cannibal with a pale complexion and some night vision goggles.

What story purpose is served by explaining the biology behind a horror monster? A good chunk of fear comes from the unknown, and around the time you've charted the entire digestive system and scientifically classified the medical illnesses the creature suffers you've turned what was a mysterious terror of the night into a routine obstacle to be overcome.

This. /thread, game over. Go home everybody.

The whole point of vampires is that they aren't real. If we wanted realistic stories, they wouldn't be monster stories(guess what: monsters don't exist).

Falterfire:
But... Why? What is the point? I mean, yes, you can hedge some numbers in order to getting a theoretically possible vampire-like creature that doesn't obviously contradict any scientific laws, but in doing so you remove most of the reasons to have vampires in the first place. After all the changes you've made, you no longer have an interesting creature. You just have a buff serial killer cannibal with a pale complexion and some night vision goggles.

What story purpose is served by explaining the biology behind a horror monster? A good chunk of fear comes from the unknown, and around the time you've charted the entire digestive system and scientifically classified the medical illnesses the creature suffers you've turned what was a mysterious terror of the night into a routine obstacle to be overcome.

And this why so called "horror" games like Resident Evil and Dead Space eventually become mindless action shooters. To paraphrase the good people at Extra Credits; horror is about the unknown, but once you've dragged the unknown into the light the only thing left to do is go in guns blazing and take it out.

Now as for the story purpose there stories that could be written with a "known" vampire. Mostly character driven stuff dealing with the struggle of morals verses instinct, but also some social stuff too. All been done before, and these days vampires aren't really considered horror most of the time anyway, so a "known" vampire breed wouldn't really change anything.

I dont mind realistic monster stories... they can still work if the justification is done well. It basically fills in the part that you imagine or ignore in the non-realistic version.

But the problem is that it has to be very well thought out. By calling attention to the plausibility you invite the audience to take a close look at the realism and details of how the creature works. If any of them fail, the whole suspension of disbelief can fall apart.

Unfortunately for me the OP fell short - it throws away blood drinking and switches to meat eating for reasons of supposed plausibility, but then hand waves sun damage, a sixth sense, immortality, regeneration and hibernation all in under "oh, genetics". Doesnt feel like it matches, to me. You could hand wave efficient energy extraction from blood drinking as a genetic thing as easily as you could hand wave immortality, or on the other hand if blood drinking is too much of a stretch then so is most of the other stuff. Throwing away one of the biggest parts of the vampire story but being less pedantic about the rest seems a bit backwards.

Caffiene:
I dont mind realistic monster stories... they can still work if the justification is done well. It basically fills in the part that you imagine or ignore in the non-realistic version.

But the problem is that it has to be very well thought out. By calling attention to the plausibility you invite the audience to take a close look at the realism and details of how the creature works. If any of them fail, the whole suspension of disbelief can fall apart.

Unfortunately for me the OP fell short - it throws away blood drinking and switches to meat eating for reasons of supposed plausibility, but then hand waves sun damage, a sixth sense, immortality, regeneration and hibernation all in under "oh, genetics". Doesnt feel like it matches, to me. You could hand wave efficient energy extraction from blood drinking as a genetic thing as easily as you could hand wave immortality, or on the other hand if blood drinking is too much of a stretch then so is most of the other stuff. Throwing away one of the biggest parts of the vampire story but being less pedantic about the rest seems a bit backwards.

An incorrect take, for two reasons.

1: He didn't throw away blood drinking; just supplemented it with meat. His vampires remain a primary blood drinking race.

2: Everything listed is biologically possible EXCEPT a human sized creature surviving on blood alone. There was no handwaving involved. The reason living exclusively on blood was dropped was because it has no known scientific backing; everything else does. You can't cherry pick the science that you like; if you're doing a biology based character then you have to go all in.

Jonathan Hornsby:
2: Everything listed is biologically possible EXCEPT a human sized creature surviving on blood alone.

No its not. The only known higher order animals with functional immortality are extremely different organisms, as mentioned in the article, such as jellyfish (or longevity in lobsters). Animals with regeneration are extremely different organisms, as mentioned in the article, such as salamanders and newts.

The biological changes required to get from the blood feeding of a bat to blood feeding in humans are no more dramatic than the biological changes for humans to regenerate like a newt or be immortal like a jellyfish. All of them are fundamental differences on a cellular level from the way human biology works. To include these not just in an animal, but in a genus Homo creature that supposedly evolved in only the short period since it diverged from homo sapiens, not just one trait but all of these things together, and to explain it with nothing more complex than "well other creatures can do it, so... genetics" is very much a hand wave explanation.

Theres no reason we couldnt hypothesise something like a second or third stomach that extracts energy much more efficiently from blood than a bat can (in a manner similar to how ruminants have additional stomachs for more efficient use of grazed plant matter). Its certainly closer to existing functionality than having a creature that reverts to an immature polyp colony stage to achieve immortality the way a jellyfish does. Telomere retention would be a better method, but I still dont agree that a fundamental change to cellular replication like that is any less of a change.

And none of that changes the fact that feeding on flesh still doesnt give us the nutrients that humans need to function. Flesh or blood or both, to survive on those alone we'd need to have digestive systems more like a cat (or a vampire bat). Either way its a hand wave of "its just works, because... genetics".

Caffiene:

Jonathan Hornsby:
2: Everything listed is biologically possible EXCEPT a human sized creature surviving on blood alone.

No its not. The only known higher order animals with functional immortality are extremely different organisms, as mentioned in the article, such as jellyfish (or longevity in lobsters). Animals with regeneration are extremely different organisms, as mentioned in the article, such as salamanders and newts.

The biological changes required to get from the blood feeding of a bat to blood feeding in humans are no more dramatic than the biological changes for humans to regenerate like a newt or be immortal like a jellyfish. All of them are fundamental differences on a cellular level from the way human biology works. To include these not just in an animal, but in a genus Homo creature that supposedly evolved in only the short period since it diverged from homo sapiens, not just one trait but all of these things together, and to explain it with nothing more complex than "well other creatures can do it, so... genetics" is very much a hand wave explanation.

Theres no reason we couldnt hypothesise something like a second or third stomach that extracts energy much more efficiently from blood than a bat can (in a manner similar to how ruminants have additional stomachs for more efficient use of grazed plant matter). Its certainly closer to existing functionality than having a creature that reverts to an immature polyp colony stage to achieve immortality the way a jellyfish does. Telomere retention would be a better method, but I still dont agree that a fundamental change to cellular replication like that is any less of a change.

And none of that changes the fact that feeding on flesh still doesnt give us the nutrients that humans need to function. Flesh or blood or both, to survive on those alone we'd need to have digestive systems more like a cat (or a vampire bat). Either way its a hand wave of "its just works, because... genetics".

You are overlooking the only relevant fact; there are known lifeforms of some kind on this planet that has at least one of every single ability discussed, EXCEPT being able to survive on less energy than it's body needs to survive. Just saying "well X can do this" might be a lax justification, a hand wave if you insist on using that term, there are NO creatures on this planet known to science that can do what you're talking about. That is the core difference.

We know of semi-immortal life. We know of regenerative life. We known of many creatures possessing means of sensing the environment that we lack. We know of creatures that hibernate as if dead. We know of creature that drink blood. We know of creatures adverse to the sun. We know of allergies to garlic that can be fatal. But I challenge you to name one, just ONE, animal species on this planet that doesn't have to eat. And that's what this argument boils down to; surviving on less energy than your body needs is the same as surviving without needing to consume at all. Starvation is starvation, doesn't matter it you get five percent of the energy your body needs or none at all.

Jonathan Hornsby:
You are overlooking the only relevant fact; there are known lifeforms of some kind on this planet that has at least one of every single ability discussed, EXCEPT being able to survive on less energy than it's body needs to survive. Just saying "well X can do this" might be a lax justification, a hand wave if you insist on using that term, there are NO creatures on this planet known to science that can do what you're talking about. That is the core difference.

We know of semi-immortal life. We know of regenerative life. We known of many creatures possessing means of sensing the environment that we lack. We know of creatures that hibernate as if dead. We know of creature that drink blood. We know of creatures adverse to the sun. We know of allergies to garlic that can be fatal. But I challenge you to name one, just ONE, animal species on this planet that doesn't have to eat. And that's what this argument boils down to; surviving on less energy than your body needs is the same as surviving without needing to consume at all. Starvation is starvation, doesn't matter it you get five percent of the energy your body needs or none at all.

I have a better challenge for you: Name where anyone has said they would need to survive on less energy than they need to survive.

You seem to be assuming some maximum amount of victims or maximum amount of blood that hasnt been referred to. The math is in fact there in the OP that there is enough energy in blood that at 100% efficiency you could get your daily requirement from a single person potentially without even killing them (2.2 litres having enough energy and being just on the threshold). The only difficulty is that at the efficiencies of the vampire bat they would need a lot of blood. That can be solved in two ways - posit a digestive system with increased efficiency (we see specialised digestive systems for higher efficiency in nature; and keeping in mind that small creatures capable of flight largely have extremely fast metabolisms that require a lot of energy compared to their bodyweight), and/or even simpler just say "ok, so they need to drink a lot of blood".

What the argument boils down to is that there is no biologically plausible way to do something that a vampire doesnt need to do and nobody claimed it could or should do. Im happy to agree with that argument.

-

In any case, the underlying point remains the same: None of these things are particularly plausible, and as soon as one of them is noticeable to the audience, the whole house of cards falls down. In my case the blood thing stood out as the most noticeable, but the whole thing is implausible to the extent that I think most people would find at least one of the elements breaks their suspension of disbelief.

Caffiene:

I have a better challenge for you: Name where anyone has said they would need to survive on less energy than they need to survive.

Challenge accepted.

"According to Kleiber's law, metabolic rate scales according to body mass. In other words, the bigger a creature, the more energy it needs."

"The energy content of blood is about 900 calories per liter, and the human body holds roughly 5.5 liters of blood. A human needs about 2,000 daily calories to maintain its weight, and as per Kleiber's law, a vampire would have roughly the same requirements, which comes out to 2.2 liters of blood per day."

"But here's the stickler: blood isn't a nutritionally complete substance. It lacks sufficient vitamins, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids to be a balanced food. Vampire bats are able to live off blood alone, but in order to get all the nutrients they need, they consume an incredible amount of blood relative to their body weight. A typical bat can drink over half of its weight in blood in a single feeding. For a 150 lb vampire, that would be about 75 lb of blood, which works out to roughly 38 liters - seven humans worth of blood."

All of that is from the article in question, while your contribution to this little debate has been, and I quote...

"You could hand wave efficient energy extraction from blood drinking as a genetic thing as easily as you could hand wave immortality, or on the other hand if blood drinking is too much of a stretch then so is most of the other stuff. Throwing away one of the biggest parts of the vampire story but being less pedantic about the rest seems a bit backwards."

So who said that they should be able to survive off less energy than they need to survive? Simple answer: YOU. By dismissing the fact that surviving solely on blood in spite of its size would be biologically inefficient (and thus more likely to be breed out through evolution) because you would prefer it the other way, you have said that the author should have thrown away the science used in this article. Codenaming the use of that same science elsewhere only further displays your hypocrisy on the subject.

In short, you like to condemn the actual science behind immortality and those other traits as a hand wave with "because genetics" while you yourself are advocating the inclusion of surviving solely on an inadequate food source with the much larger hand wave of "because reasons." At least the author here had some examples and science to give; you're just talking out of your ass.

Jonathan Hornsby:
By dismissing the fact that surviving solely on blood in spite of its size would be biologically inefficient

So what?

That isnt remotely related to anything you were arguing, and neither is anything you quoted. The argument you stated was that they would have less energy than they need to survive. Is it inefficient to get enough energy, or would they be unable to get enough energy? There is a vast difference.

Is it inadequate, as you go on to claim, or is it just inefficient? Youre equivocating. If you cant actually show anyone saying they can do the impossible, stop saying that its impossible and address what I actually said.

Even if I ignore your bait-and-switch, I dont see how "humans drink blood like bats, but have a slower metabolism and so dont need as much energy for their bodyweight" is "a much larger hand wave" than "humans can regenerate like a salamander, but they do it without needing any other amphibian traits".

[edit: Clarified confusing sentence)

OK, you successfully built a fantasy creature that trends toward the middle of the sci-fi hardness scale instead of the storyteller fiat end. Not that this isn't good to do if you're writing a novel or something but... what do you want from us here, exactly?

It's not a news item or opinion column, you didn't really inform us of anything or share a viewpoint. So... 'sup?

 

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