Ten Times Cheaper But Better Food is Going to Radically Change Your World

Nextbigfuture interviewed Tony Seba of RethinkX on their latest analysis of emerging global technology disruption. The new emerging technology is combining synthetic biology was fermentation to transform agriculture and many aspects of industry. In 2017, RethinkX and Tony Seba put out a report about the transformation of transportation into transportation as a service (Taas). The transportation vision is being realized by Elon Musk and Tesla, Waymo and ridesharing companies. Precision biology will displace, replace or transform agriculture by using designed microorganisms and adapting beer industry fermentation processes to produce food that is identical to milk and meat but without using animals. The first product we are seeing with mass impact is the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat products that are impacting ground meat.


* This is taking processes from a $660+ billion beer industry and applying it to agriculture
* This transforms land, food, environment, our health and the economy
* Historical examples of less precise biology were already hugely impactful. Insulin was created with similar processes and the vitamin industry uses less precise version of these processes.
* First food products already have multi-billion companies
* We are domesticating micro and macro-organisms.

A number of vitamins and supplements are produced almost exclusively using PF. More recently, the process is being used to make collagen. Today, these products generate revenues of more than $100 billion worldwide every year.

The cost of PF is being driven ever lower by a steep decline in the cost of precision biology. As a result, the cost of producing a single molecule by PF has fallen from $1m/kg in 2000 to about $100/kg today. We expect the cost to fall below $10/kg by 2025.

The key is identifying and understanding the overall cost and technology disruption.

Impact of Food as a Software

Rapid advances in precision biology are allowing us to huge strides in precision fermentation, a process that allows us to program micro-organisms to produce almost any complex organic molecule. These advances are now being combined with an entirely new model of production we call Food-as-Software, in which individual molecules engineered by scientists are uploaded to databases – molecular cookbooks that food engineers anywhere in the world can use to design products in the same way that software developers design apps. This model ensures constant iteration so that products improve rapidly, with each version superior and cheaper than the last. It also ensures a production system that is completely decentralized and much more stable and resilient than industrial animal agriculture, with fermentation farms located in or close to towns and cities.

This rapid improvement is in stark contrast to the industrial livestock production model, which has all but reached its limits in terms of scale, reach, and efficiency. As the most inefficient and economically vulnerable part of this system, cow products will be the first to feel the full force of modern food’s disruptive power. Modern alternatives will be up to 100 times more land efficient, 10-25 times more feedstock efficient, 20 times more time-efficient, and 10 times more water-efficient. They will also produce an order of magnitude less waste.

Modern foods have already started disrupting the ground meat market, but once cost parity is reached, we believe in 2021-23, adoption will tip and accelerate exponentially. The disruption will play out in a number of ways and does not rely solely on the direct, one-for-one substitution of end products. In some markets, only a small percentage of the ingredients need to be replaced for an entire product to be disrupted. The whole of the cow milk industry, for example, will start to collapse once modern food technologies have replaced the proteins in a bottle of milk – just 3.3% of its content. The industry, which is already balancing on a knife edge, will thus be all but bankrupt by 2030.

This is not, therefore, one disruption but many in parallel, with each overlapping, reinforcing, and accelerating one another.

New technologies are driving the transformation of the food and agriculture sectors and the inevitable implications for the cattle industry in the U.S. The cost curves RethinkX hax produced are based on limited data given the early stage of the application of these technologies in food markets. These cost curves underpin the adoption and implications analysis presented in this paper. They should be seen as a ‘beta’ analysis or a ‘first pass’ and we will update them as more evidence emerges. We welcome feedback that will help in developing this analysis.

The cost of proteins will be five times cheaper by 2030 and 10 times cheaper by 2035 than existing animal proteins, before ultimately approaching the cost of sugar. They will also be superior in every key attribute – more nutritious, healthier, better tasting, and more convenient, with almost unimaginable variety. This means that, by 2030, modern food products will be higher quality and cost less than half as much to produce as the animal-derived products they replace.

By 2030, the number of cows in the U.S. will have fallen by 50% and the cattle farming industry will be all but bankrupt. All other livestock industries will suffer a similar fate, while the knock-on effects for crop farmers and businesses throughout the value chain will be severe.

Modern foods will be cheaper and superior to animal-derived foods. The cost of modern food products will be half that of animal products and they will be superior in every functional attribute – more nutritious, tastier, and more convenient with much greater variety. Nutritional benefits could have a profound impact on health, both in a reduction in foodborne illness and in conditions such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes that are estimated to cost the U.S. $1.7 trillion every year.

* Wider economic benefits will accrue from the reduction in the cost of food in the form of increased disposable incomes and from the wealth, jobs, and taxes that come from leading the way in modern food technologies.

* Environmental benefits will be profound, with net greenhouse gas emissions from the sector falling by 45% by 2030. Other issues such as international deforestation, species extinction, water scarcity, and aquatic pollution from animal waste, hormones, and antibiotics will be ameliorated as well. By 2035, lands previously used to produce animal foods in the U.S. could become a major carbon sink.

Interview with Tony Seba

Question How will this be different like prior generation manufactured food like twinkies or corn syrup?

Answer The proteins that are produced will be biologically identical to the products that we currently get from livestock. We will produce microbes via synthetic biology like producing yeast. This will be scaling something similar to beer industry processes for producing milk, meat and other products. The global beer industry is a $660+ billion industry.

The manufactured food of the food science of the 1950s to 1970s did not precisely replicate our food. This caused problems with public health.

Modern foods will not only produce food that is cheaper than animal-derived products, but superior in every conceivable way – in quality, taste, structure, nutrition, and impact on the environment and society. The improvements will ensure that adoption of new products begins before cost parity is reached, just as it has in some markets today. We see this with people paying more for Beyond Meat or Impossible Food products.

Question What is the timeline for this transformation?

Answer There will be four major waves of disruption.

What we eat:
1. Substitute ingredients. The one-for-one substitution of animal-derived ingredients. This is business adoption. Consumer preference is not a major factor.
2. Substitute end products. This is a business-to-consumer disruption:

The way we eat:
3. Fortification. The addition of ingredients made using modern production methods to existing food products.
4. Form factor. The replacement of existing forms of food with entirely new forms

The new industry only needs to disrupt 3.3% of the milk bottle – the key functional proteins – to bring about the collapse of the whole cow milk industry.

The $24 billion pet food market is where initial products and businesses will get scale.

However, this will completely transform the organization of our world and it will be driven by lower costing but better products.

SOURCES: Interview Tony Seba, RethinkX
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

54 thoughts on “Ten Times Cheaper But Better Food is Going to Radically Change Your World”

  1. Beer was standard throughout the wheat and barley cultures for thousands of years. If you think about it, it’s just soup made from grains, and then allowed to age which miraculously adds alcohol which both makes it more fun and acts as a disinfectant which both kills the microbes in the water (making it safe to drink) and gives you some long term storage ability. Or at least longer term than normal soup.

    And beer was actually used as sole food source (at times) in a number of religious orders where they, for religious reasons, wanted to fast, or avoid food, for days or weeks at a time, but still needed some nutrition. Once again, think of their beer as a barley soup rather than a modern crystal clear lager.

  2. This is half of why when people talk about CRISPR, I say that it is going to make truckloads of money for some bio-tech companies. As for “eating slop”, synthetic meat, etc. will catch on when the product tastes better than the farm produced products (or when people are desperate).

  3. Solid point. Culture transforming tech projections in areas like transportation, lowered costs of building homes, and food production are always overhyped and almost laughable in their timelines. Food is very personal, far more so than an electric car, prefab apartment buildings, or windmills.

    2-5yrs ago a fair number of people were projecting EVs would overtake ICE vehicles around 2025 and sale of new ICE vehicles could be banned in 2030 in USA, EU, China and India. It got very quiet soon afterward, as the timelines have to be pushed back at least a decade, if not three. That’s with a less personal and heavily vested industry than food. Articles and promotions from just a few years ago hyped vertical farms and their potential exponential growth, which today pretty well defines the term niche.

    The section from the article you highlighted about livestock being half replaced could very well be true……in the latter half of this century, zero % chance by 2030.

  4. People changing their habits is a very slow process. Ability to bring the supply will outstrip the demand for years.

  5. Well hey, it was weaker than what we have today, but beer was a large source of how laborers and Craftsmen were paid to build the great pyramids of Egypt. It had lower alcohol content and had a lot of live cultures. We could do worse.

  6. alfalfa. There is so much land around that people won’t live on. Basically the entire US middle and southwest. More or less all of Canada. The entire middle of Brazil (as big as the entire 48). And if you want to talk about Australia, well, then you’ve got an entire continent. There is no land going to “waste”. Quite the opposite, Earth hasn’t seen so much new greening in millennia.

    the whole “land” issue is a great big myth. Is there land around the deltas of Lagos to sustain 300 million more people? Of course not. Can they be fed? sure thing.

  7. There’s some sense to this (and some countries feel the land crunch more than others), but these arguments also apply to seasteading. The ocean isn’t very photosynthetically efficient compared to land because light doesn’t filter very deep, but the nutrients tend not to be found near the top, so it’s a lot like a desert that covers most of the Earth’s surface. You can get a lot more productivity out of it by setting up floating kelp farms and circulating some nutrients up, and if you ever get good at mass manufacturing platforms they’d be a fun place for towns too.

  8. Outdoor aircon? I’m trying to imagine some way for this to make sense. Was it based off big swamp coolers? Maybe supplied with limitless seawater?

  9. Fair point. Agreed. That does point to a reason for agricultural building infrastructure in the form of greenhouses. Still no real need to stack them.

  10. My personal breed of anarchism (legitimate, since we anarchists
    cannot have a central authority that provides definitions), considers
    laws and taxation a necessary evil to be used only to maximize
    the freedom of the individual. How can a law increase freedom?
    By punishing violence, for instance. How can a tax increase
    freedom? By providing a social rent for everybody, for instance
    (that could become necessary if production becomes fully automated). If you think that is not anarchism, I can only tell you
    that if it were implemented, you would see if it is not anarchism.
    Even the bastion of liberal society, private property, is a positive
    right, enforced by law just like taxation, and whose obligations
    are not respected by raccoons (among others).

  11. Positive rights like that are inherently self-contradicting, as they automatically imply obligations on the part of others. How do you implement those obligations under anarchy?

  12. You have got right all the fundamentals of anarchism, except
    providing freedom also to those who didn’t inherit, and were
    unable to earn, their parcel of land.

  13. actually the impossible burger is a great example following the wealthy buy it first and then it works its way down.. now the burger has made it to burger king.. whats more mass market than that?

  14. in the future we will live entirely on beer”
    That sounds more like the past: “Beer, the liquid bread of the Germanic people” -;)

  15. I suspect that limit would be due to limitations on available CO2, one of the reasons greenhouses routinely supplement that gas.

  16. Note that the Pharaoh was royalty in a non-market economy. Try pulling that off in a free market democracy.

  17. It’s not about how much food you can supply, so much as how much land is wasted – land that is not available for anything else, to the exclusion of entire ecosystems that once existed in many countries.

    Or if being eco-conscious is not your bent, at the very least you could use that land to house people.

    People seem to worry alot about whether there will be enough food for people in the future – but at the end of the day, those extra people have to live somewhere too, and taking up more land than necessary just because it’s an expensive undertaking to do vertical farming is a bit ridiculous.

    It’s fair enough if that land was desert anyway – but a cow needs to feed on something, and I’m pretty sure that sand aint it.

  18. Forgive me for sounding facetious, but I was under the impression that buildings had windows that let in light?

    Now obviously a multi story building would have to be a little more creative with optical engineering designs to reach plants further away from those windows considering the lack of a clear roof that a greenhouse provides.

    Perhaps some sort of central shaft with periodic mirrors, coupled with mirrored floors and ceilings on every floor to maximise utilisation of available light.

    At the end of the day the utilisation of light is as much a key design consideration as the source of it.

    As to supplementary lighting for night time growth augmentation, you seem to be presuming solar as the only option here – more modern compact modular nuclear designs reported on this site could easily supply the necessary energy in a much more compact area.

    Also, are 2 dimensional arrays still the only way to go with solar?

    That’s a depressing thought if so, I would have thought that there could be some extra efficiency to be gained per hectare from 3 dimensional solar arrays by this time.

  19. vertical farming is a waste of money unless you are doing scale greenhouse farming, which is already extremely efficient (50 kgs of tomatoes per plant anyone?).

    There is plenty of arable land and farming tech to feed the global population of the future. The critical point is logistics. Heck, Saudi already has over 200,000 dairy cows and an amazing dairy production capacity. In the desert….I was there on a site visit not too long ago. No “protein science” there. It was all about solar-powered outdoor aircon to keep the cows happy and then logistics to a 2,000km radius.

  20. Sure, costs will come down, but food is very different from any other product. There is an extremely personal connection to it (though you can argue some people rather stuff themselves with crap as long as they can have the latest 28-camera Iphone.).

    If anything, there is a move towards more healthy food back to basics food , free of RoundUp, additives, food coloring etc. That is where the tech is being invested, not in this “protein science”. Ie how to get the food from farm to table with minimal processing and efficient logistics. As the West/China reduces it’s population by about 50% in the next 50 years and the Developing Nexus (Africa/Middle East/Subscontinent) is the food growth engine, the growing population habits will drive food production and consumption. Protein-wise, that means poultry, mainly, and beef for middle east. Dairy has a very big future. Veggies of course. All of this can be delivered at scale and cheaply without the protein science.

  21. This “ad” is a problem looking for a solution. The meat and dairy industry works. It is both efficient and cost effective. If the problem is CO2 emissions from the value chain, including the ruminants themselves, then new feedstock tech is largely solving that problem.

    Otherwise, there is no “problem”. There is plenty of land (that otherwise won’t be used, and the “carbon sink” argument is pretty dumb). There is plenty of feed (eg alfalfa) that isn’t needed for humans, we can already produce all the food the world will ever need. There is plenty of water. The logistics work.

    The future population and food production growth is not interested that much in beef either for religious reasons (India) or plain old cultural (SSA). Dairy, though, is a big growth business but off a small base. Africa only consumes about 40 liters/person/year compared to 120 liters in developed countries. The World Bank figures Africa will double production by 2050. That is easily doable with local farming and upgraded logistics.

  22. Yes, I started with mead. Simplicity itself (even though I did blow a hole in the floor once when a 3L container built up too much pressure.)

    Your buffer argument proves too much I feel. Saying that less efficient food production is better because it provides a buffer in case of a poor harvest:

    • Have countries able to buy food on the international markets actually had a poor harvest = famine problem in the last century or so? The only examples I can think of all featured direct government action to prevent purchase of food, which would probably also prevent diversion of animal feed.
    • That argument applies to ALL inefficient methods of production. Are we going to abandon efficiency in general just because it leads to tighter margins?
  23. I remember reading an article just like this in the 90s. The beef and milk industries had 5 years at most back then too.
    Perhaps it will be true this time but a marbled scotch fillet is not on the cards.

  24. Imagine for a second that you already have a highly concentrated population in a country (Japan) which imports a large portion of its food and has a powerful hostile neighbor (China) that could potentially threaten their shipping routes or supply contracts.

    They might consider it an increase in food security if they had a way to convert an abundant local feed stock (seaweed and leaves?) into a wide variety of food products.

  25. Wikipedia says most plants can only use ~10% of sunlight at peak midday. Of course, shifting that around with batteries has its own costs. Or I suppose you could find crops that can grow on one hour of sunlight a day and shift the extra light to multiple levels of them at noon. Maybe an algae tank could be used that way. It’s weird but theoretically you could imagine something like that.

    Of course, no real need to go full vertical farm for that. You could have a regular field with an overhead array of panels that unfold at bright times of day for greater occlusion, and shift the extra power to a nearby warehouse of bioreactors. All for the sweet ability to consume an extra helping of slimy spirulina.

    Prefer nuclear solution.

  26. I think you’re talking too much out of paranoia, you do have a point, but it’s nowhere to the levels you’re talking about.

    first, we as a society are moving out of the cities (and rural areas) into suburbs.

    Thanks to the cost of shipping going down, most factories are being built outside of cities, where the land, wages, cost of living and taxes are less, if you hadn’t noticed, most manufacturing is in the more rural states.

    Self driving trucks, delivery drones & other advancements in automation, will make the benefits of living in a city even less advantageous, as the cost & speed of shipping goods will make living farther away less disadvantageous.

    Sterilizing a vat can be quite easy, ever canned your own food? it’s not easy to clean the inside of your vessels. and if contamination is a bigger issue, then products, seals, containers etc, will adapt to help reduce loss.

    one of the most interesting things about new technology, is for some reason it always causes authoritarians more trouble than the citizenry.

  27. It won’t be slop. The gowing conditions will be entirely lab controlled with none of the blood, mud and sh1t that comes with regular meat. Its easy to imagine that the collective conciousness will quickly see this as the preferred option.

  28. Personally, I brew mead, which is even easier. Yes, chickens can be trouble at times, our first batch was a complete loss when we found the coop wasn’t sealed well enough against raccoons. Once we sealed that hole we’d missed, they were safe enough.

    They said it’s like commercial brewing of beer. Huge vats, serious efforts to maintain sterility because failure means losing a lot at a time. Not like tossing some ingredients together in a glass jug with an airlock, and a week later you have a steak.

    Ingredients… What is their feedstock derived from? Petrochemicals? Grain?

    If the latter, you’ve got another problem. It’s true that the use of grain to feed animals is inefficient, but this has the advantage of providing society with a natural buffer in case of agricultural shortfalls: You slaughter most of the animals, and eat the grain yourself, and suddenly you have plenty despite a terrible harvest.

    With the system they’re suggesting, only enough grain, or whatever they’re using as a feedstock, to satisfy demand will be produced. And the feed stock likely won’t be something humans can directly consume.

    A bad year will be directly reflected in terms of calories available to humans. The system will be run efficiently, which means without significant margin.

  29. To expand on that overly brief summary.

    Electrolysis is used to create hydrogen from water (though there are of course other, cheaper, methods of creating Hydrogen eg. natural gas).

    Hydrogen, Ammonia and CO2 are bubbled into water cultured with the appropriate (secret) microbe. The microbes turn CO2 and H2 into more microbes, which are harvested, dried, and ground into a 50% protein powder. The powder is sold as a flour substitute, not a meat substitute.

    I would guess that there is also a bunch of trace elements in the water too that go unmentioned.

  30. Sorry, no. It’s not just a matter of taste and nutrition, I seriously dislike the idea on dependency grounds.

    I’ve gardened, I have a flock of chickens right now to provide my need for eggs, and could potentially expand it to supply all my meat needs. If I lived on a bit larger lot I could become nutritionally independent through my own efforts; Conventional agriculture is relatively easy to do in a distributed and local fashion.

    Factory manufacture of vat food will inevitably be highly centralized. Highly centralized provision of urgent necessities will ALWAYS be leveraged to gain power over people. Always. It’s generally a significant motive in centralizing the provision of such needs, and I guarantee that if you dug here, you’d also find it to be the case. The dream is to “free” the people of the need to live in a dispersed fashion, and herd us into cities where we’re easier to control. All social engineers want people confined to cities for that reason, trapped at high population densities. Not for their sake, but because people living under such circumstances are vulnerable to manipulation. And what planner wants people who can reject their plans?

    You want to improve society, you decentralize, you don’t centralize. You make people independent, not more dependent.

    You want a food revolution to improve society? Fine: Make it easier for people to grow their own food. Genetically engineer an easy to grow, productive crop to be nutritionally complete.

  31. So, instead of flat, two dimensional fields that use the solar energy to grow the plants, you suggest multi-level factory farms that use a coal power station to provide the energy?

    Or do you replace 100 hectares of fields with one multi-level building and 200 hectares of solar panels (assuming 50% efficient)?

  32. If history is any guide, all sorts of tech was originally expensive and aimed at the top of the market but as manufacturing tech improved it gradually took more and more market share.

    Remember it was only in the 1980s that a mobile phone (the size and weight of a concrete brick) was limited to Stockbrokers and movie stars.

  33. Soy? Corn? Let me guess: you read the headline and skipped right to the comments.

    It would be far closer to the actual content of this article to say that in the future we will live entirely on beer.

  34. Cheaper isn’t the only important thing. The other important thing is that it will create food with much less pollution and environmental damages. It will also be able to tailor food to have the correct balance of nutrients that should reduce the negative effects of eating non-nutritious food.

  35. Yes, cultured/culture grown meat is the way forward for those of us that love meat – potentially just the same with no moral issues (unless using meat stem cells is an ethical dilemma for you – it aint for me).

    Vertical and muti story vegetable farming is a next step for vegetables, fruit and our 5 a day requirements – current farming in fields, or even greenhouses is simply not very efficient in terms of area use, it’s two dimensional thinking in a world of 100+ story buildings.

  36. Just one amazing fact, if magically (Aladdin’s lamp where are you?) we could transform all agricultural food production to microalgae we would need only 1% of the world’s agricultural land used for food to produce the needed biomass.
    99% of the land can go back to Nature

  37. I look forward to someday soon be able to sink my mighty incisors, on vat grown meats, that have never been part of a living animal. Yes, meaaaat….droool…meaaaattttt…

  38. I think that Tony Seba is spot on.

    We grow microalgae and produce a variety of food from them which are designed such that people can continue to eat what they currently eat. No change needed from the consumers.

    Microalgae are the healthiest of food and are incredibly productive. Very little land is needed to feed the world.

    About half the food my family and I eat has been microalgae based for a while. Looking at how we look, feel and act younger than a few years ago, our friends and associates are also changing fast. All feel healthier and better.
    At 79 years young, everyone thinks I am about 60.

    What we see happening to us and all around us strongly supports Tony Seba’s ideas but from a different perspective – you get a lot healthier and age much, much less.

    Global growth of microalgae has not been fast in the past, CAGR of about 7%. However, many factors are coming together to boost the CAGR and we expect the disruptive growth CAGR of 20 to 30% to arrive within 2 years or so.

    So, hang on to your hats, the whirlwind of food change is going to be fast and furious.

  39. Impossible burger was supposed to be cheaper given its ingredients vs the cost of raising cows. Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil and misc chemicals shouldn’t be 6 times the cost of raising cows, but VCs don’t invest millions into companies to serve the low end of the market. If history is any guide, this will be another solution for people where food insecurity isn’t a factor.


  40. Soy and corn are not killing Americans. It is frying and grilling copious amounts of meat. Butter, mayo, and other vigorously beaten foods are also deadly. AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_glycation_end-product
    And smoked and browned, toasted, singed food has carcinogens including some of the same things in tobacco smoke. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acrylamide

    Soy just needs to be cooked…big deal. There are lots of things that need cooked first. The anti-soy hogwash will, no doubt be found to be utter rubbish. I eat soy protein and soy lecithin daily and it definitely makes me feel better. And I like how the price has come down, because all the imbeciles think there is something wrong with it.
    Corn also has very low AGEs. Look at life expectancies in the U.S. Latinos are living 4.4 years longer despite hard labor, exposure to all sorts of chemicals at work from cleaning chemicals, to manufacturing chemicals, diesel exhaust, and more (83.3 years). How do you suppose that is? Could that be corn, vegetables, beans, and rice? It certainly is not the churros.
    Life expectancy:
    Asian Americans (87.1 years)
    Latinos (83.3 years)
    European Americans (78.9 years)
    Native Americans (76.9 years)
    African Americans (75.4 years).
    African Americans eat a lot of southern food…fried stuff. They also have more lead exposure which even at low doses causes high blood pressure.
    Asians boil a lot of stuff. That is very good for lower AGEs.

  41. In my business, this kind of pitch is called ‘talking your book’. He has no dog in this fight, completely non-biased in his comments, I’m sure. I’ll bet there are more cows in 2030 than there are today! More and more people will upgrade their protein intake to beef and chicken as the worlds’ poor become middle class. This may be some sort of supplement to food, but not “what’s for dinner”.

    By 2030, the number of cows in the U.S. will have fallen by 50% and the cattle farming industry will be all but bankrupt. All other livestock industries will suffer a similar fate, while the knock-on effects for crop farmers and businesses throughout the value chain will be severe.

  42. I don’t see corn or soybeans being in the story. I agree that they are not the best thing for humans. But what is in the future is creating a 3 dimensional piece of food from the tailings of making beer. (sorta) Think tinkered with yeast that is no longer yeast as you know it. They must feel they can grow it in shapes or process it into recognizable food.

  43. This is insanity. Very few people will be willing to eat slop and call it food. Only if they are starving. Soybeans and corn are not healthy for humans period. There is nothing wrong with eating milk and meat

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