Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Protected and Controlled Environment Horticulture full stage

Invited applicants, who previously registered an Expression of Interest, can now apply for funding for innovation-focused research about Protected and Controlled Environment Horticulture.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funding.

BBSRC will fund 80% of the Full Economic Cost (FEC) of the project. Awards can be from £250,000 to £750,000. Industry partners and contributions are required to match the 80% FEC investment from BBSRC through both cash and in-kind contributions.

This is a single programme running from 2023 to 2027 with 1 funding round. Awards may last for 2 to 4 years.

The deadline for this funding opportunity has been extended to 24 July 2023 at 4:00pm.

Who can apply

Before applying for funding, check the following:

Who is eligible to apply

You can apply if you:

  • are resident in the UK for at least 183 days in a tax year
  • hold a lecturer or lecturer-equivalent position at a:
    • UK higher education institution
    • research council institute
    • UK Research and Innovation approved independent research organisation

Principal applicants must be employed at the submitting research organisation at lecturer level, or equivalent, or due to move to the organisation before the start date of the grant. Or if not employed, applicants must have an agreement that the research will be conducted at the submitting research organisation as if they were an employee at lecturer level, or equivalent.

Co-applicants must be employed at an eligible organisation and meet the same employment criteria.

BBSRC unsuccessful applicants and resubmissions policy

Read our guidance and policy for unsuccessful applicants and resubmissions.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI and BBSRC’s equality, diversity and inclusion action policy.

What we're looking for

Scope

For more information on the background of this opportunity, go to the Additional information section.

Advances associated with PACE horticulture have created an opportunity to completely rethink how crops are grown by integrating technologies into the production of fruit, vegetables, and salads to access significant potential benefits.

Horticultural food crops grown in protected and controlled environments are ideally suited to the application of digital technologies with the potential to increase yield and quality with fewer inputs or more efficient resource usage. PACE horticulture can also reduce biological, chemical, and other environmental hazards, especially through minimising risks from pests, diseases, and climatic variation. In addition, opportunities exist to introduce automation at every stage of the growing cycle to reduce reliance on labour, which is increasingly a barrier to expanding production.

Registered applicants are invited to apply to develop research and innovation projects to advance the potential of PACE horticulture systems, within the context of broader challenges relating to the fresh produce sector in the UK including, resilience, sustainability and productivity. Challenge areas within the scope of the opportunity are described below. Projects may investigate single or multiple challenges.

We encourage applications that bring together teams with expertise from across the biosciences and engineering for discovery research and innovation activities relating to the challenges of developing PACE horticulture.

Challenge areas

This list of challenge areas is not comprehensive, nor should they be siloed. The scope is solutions-focused, and we encourage innovation-focused research applications that connect across the challenge areas.

The challenges areas are as follows and are in the context of breeding and growing horticultural crops in protected and controlled environments.

Genetic improvement of crops for increased yields, resilience, and quality

There is considerable potential to breed crop varieties with traits suited to novel growing systems, such as greater compatibility with vertical farming, autonomous plant care, processing and harvesting. This may involve breeding for novel physiological and morphological traits. Applicants may explore using next generation breeding technologies where appropriate.

Exploiting advances in robotics, automation, and digital technologies

Growers are seeking scalable solutions that address their needs. This includes developing novel growing systems, precision management tools, and increasing the use of automation. Applicants may explore approaches to advance the digitisation of crop production, for example by improving data-capture by designing new sensors, measurements, and analytics, all to enable more precise crop management for improved resource use, with more flexibility, interoperability, and less wastage.

Reducing environmental impacts and progressing towards sustainability targets

Growers seek to optimise the usage of a range of production inputs, including energy, water, and other inputs such as fertilisers and substrates. This could include breeding crops with improved temperature resilience to reduce heating requirements or adapting photosynthesis to more energy efficient lighting systems. Applicants may also explore approaches to maximise the sequestration of excess carbon dioxide in controlled environments.

Sustainably increasing yield, quality and productivity by designing better systems

There is a need to understand how crops interact with the growing environment to inform the optimisation of growing conditions. This may enable precision approaches to crop management that increase crop yield and quality, while improving resource-usage. There may be opportunities to manipulate the length of growing seasons to reduce the time when facilities are not in use and to synchronise production with demand. For example, applicants could explore opportunities to optimise hydroponics and related systems, through improving root architectures, microbiomes, and managing biofilms.

Responding to demand for higher quality produce and novel crops

There are considerable opportunities for innovation-focused research projects to support growers in responding to rising retailer standards and consumer expectations relating to cost, quality, nutrition, and safety. This includes breeding and management for organoleptic traits and nutrition. Investigating nutritional quality may involve exploring the prevalence of bioactives and micronutrients in fresh produce, including strategies for biofortification.

Projects may enable the development of new varieties tailored to protected and controlled environments and to expand the range of crops suitable for cultivation. This may include crops that provide compounds with pharmacological properties suitable for medicinal feedstocks.

Developing strategies for improved management of crop pest and diseases in protected and controlled environment systems

Areas of interest include reducing dependence upon chemical crop protection controls, and approaches to increase the longevity of existing controls, including integrated pest management. This extends to developing the full range of alternative controls, including physical methods, and managing plant ecology including the microbiome. Growers also seek approaches to reliably address concerns with food safety and hygiene.

Duration

The duration of this award is up to 5 years. The earliest start date will be 1 February 2024.

Funding available

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £937,500.

BBSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Project partners and contributions are required for the full application and must match the funding from BBSRC.

Project partners must contribute a minimum of 80% cash or in-kind (or both) of the full economic cost to the project. The contribution may be made either by an individual project partner or by a consortium. Contributions from project partners can exceed these requirements.

Funding will only be provided to UK eligible organisations, but international researchers can be named as project partners.

Businesses cannot be funded through this opportunity.

Collaborators and partners

Research teams

Research teams may bring together a broad range of experts and apply their knowledge to challenges in producing salad, fruit and vegetable crops in protected and controlled growing conditions, including:

  • engineers
  • biologists
  • nutritionists
  • agronomists
  • economists
  • roboticists
  • systems analysts
  • data scientists
  • social scientists

Partners and subcontractors

Collaborators are eligible to act as either project partners or subcontractors.

A ‘project partner’ is a third-party person who is not employed on the award, or a third-party organisation, who provides specific contributions either in cash or in kind, to the project.

A ‘sub-contractor’ is a third-party individual not employed as staff on the award, or a third-party organisation, who is subcontracted by the host organisation to deliver a specific piece of work.

Collaborators can be ’dual role’ and may act as a project partner on parts of a project and a sub-contractor on others, but this must be fully justified.

Consultation with business

Consultation with businesses engaged in developing PACE horticulture revealed a strong interest in de-risking further investment by generating evidence to address barriers to adoption, including by enabling the appraisal of potential risks and negative consequences. Proposed projects may contribute to enabling informed decisions about the economic, societal, environmental, and nutritional health impacts of PACE horticulture. This may include pre-competitive research that underpins the development of shared standards and claims, especially where a lack of established frameworks is a barrier to progress.

Applications should bring together businesses to partner with academic researchers for innovation-focused research activities. These activities should address the potential for PACE horticulture to contribute to wider national goals, which range from generating high-value employment, contributing to food security, advancing towards net zero targets, and improving biodiversity.

Business partners

Business partners will be crucial collaborators and applications should seek to make connections across the supply chain, considering the needs of groups from growers to retailers, suppliers, and technology providers.

Businesses must be UK-based or have UK-based research activity. They may encompass a wide range of stakeholders, including:

  • farmers and growers
  • businesses of any size
  • innovators
  • agronomists
  • practitioners
  • technologists
  • data management service providers

How to apply

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Funding Service

We are running the funding opportunity on the new UKRI Funding Service. You cannot apply for this opportunity on the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

If you do not already have an account with the UKRI Funding Service, you will be able to create one by selecting the ‘start application’ button at the start of this page. Creating an account is a 2-minute process requiring you to verify your email address and set a password.

If you are a member of an organisation with a research office that we do not have contact details for, we will contact them to enable administrator access.

This provides:

  • oversight of every UKRI Funding Service application opened on behalf of your organisation
  • the ability to review and submit applications

Research offices that have not already received an invitation to open an account should email support@funding-service.ukri.org

Watch our research office webinars about the new UKRI Funding Service.

Submitting your application

Applications should be prepared and submitted by the lead research organisation but should be co-created with input from all investigators, and project partners, and should represent the proposed work of the entire consortia.

To apply:

  1. Select the ‘Start application’ button at the start of this page.
  2. This will open the ‘Sign in’ page of UKRI’s Funding Service. If you do not already have an account, you’ll be able to create one. This is a 2-minute process requiring you to verify your email address and set a password.
  3. Start answering the questions detailed in this section of ‘How to apply’. You can save your work and come back to it later. You can also work ‘offline’, copying and pasting into the text boxes provided for your answers.
  4. Once complete, use the service to send your application to your research office for review. They’ll check it and return it to you if it needs editing.
  5. Once happy, your research office will submit it to UKRI for assessment. Only they can do this.

As citations can be integral to a case for support, you should balance their inclusion and the benefit they provide against the inclusion of other parts of your answer to each question. Bear in mind that citations, associated reference lists or bibliographies, or both, contribute to, and are included in, the word count of the relevant section.

Deadline

BBSRC must receive your application by 24 July 2023 at 4:00pm UK time. You will not be able to apply after this time. You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

Processing personal data

BBSRC, as part of UKRI, will need to collect some personal information to manage your funding service account and the registration of your funding applications. We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice.

BBSRC, as part of UKRI, will need to share the application and any personal information that it contains with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) so that they can participate in the assessment process.

For more information on how Defra uses personal information, visit the personal information charter page.

If your application is successful, some personal information will be published via the UKRI Gateway to Research.

UKRI Funding Service: section guidance

Summary

In plain English, provide a summary that can be sent to potential reviewers to determine if your proposal is within their field of expertise.

This summary may be made publicly available on external facing websites, so please ensure it can be understood by a variety of readers, for example:

  • opinion-formers
  • policymakers
  • the general public
  • the wider research community

Guidance for writing a summary

Succinctly describe your proposed work in terms of:

  • its context
  • the challenge the project addresses and how it will be applied to this
  • its aims and objectives
  • its potential applications and benefits.

Word count: 550

Applicants

List the key members of your team and assign them roles, for example:

  • principal investigator
  • business partner
  • co-investigator
  • researcher
  • technician

You should only list 1 individual as principal investigator.

Section: Vision

Word count: 500

Question: What are you hoping to achieve with your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Explain how your proposed work:

  • is of excellent quality and importance within or beyond the field(s) or area(s)
  • has the potential to advance current understanding, generates new knowledge, thinking or discovery within or beyond the field or area
  • is timely given current trends, context and needs
  • impacts world-leading research, society, the economy or the environment

Within the Vision section we also expect you to:

  • identify the potential direct or indirect benefits and who the beneficiaries might be
  • explain the potential to address challenges relating to the sustainability, productivity and resilience of the horticultural sector

Section: Approach

Word count: 2,500

Question: How are you going to deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Explain how you have designed your approach so that it:

  • is effective and appropriate to achieve your objectives
  • is feasible, and comprehensively identifies any risks to delivery and how they will be managed
  • if applicable, uses a clear and transparent methodology
  • if applicable, summarises the previous work and describes how this will be built upon and progressed
  • will maximise translation of outputs into outcomes and impacts
  • describes how your, and if applicable your team’s, research environment (in terms of the place, its location, and relevance to the project) will contribute to the success of the work

Within the Approach section we also expect you to:

  • engage any project partners so that the consortia together achieve shared objectives
  • demonstrate access to the appropriate services, facilities, infrastructure, or equipment to deliver the proposal
  • provide a detailed and comprehensive project plan including milestones and timelines in the form of a Gantt chart or similar (additional 1-page A4)
  • include a detailed and appropriate plan for how you will acquire and manage data (additional 1-page A4)

Section: Project partners: contributions

Question: provide details about any project partners’ contributions using the template provided.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you do not have any project partners, simply add ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move to the next section.

If you do have project partners, download and complete the project partner contributions template (DOCX, 52KB) then copy and paste the table within it into the text box below.

Ensure you have obtained prior agreement from project partners that, should you be offered funding, they will support your project as indicated in the template.

Word count: 500

Section: Project Partners: letters (or emails) of support

Question: upload a single PDF containing the letters or emails of support from each partner you named in the table in the previous ‘contributions’ section.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you do not have any project partners, simply add ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move to the next section.

If you have named project partners in the previous ‘contributions’ section, enter the words ‘attachment supplied’ in the text box below.

Each letter or email you provide should:

  • confirm the partner’s commitment to the project
  • clearly explain the value, relevance and possible benefits of the work to them
  • describe any additional value that they bring to the project
  • please refer to BBSRC’s guide for more guidance

Please do not provide letters of support from host and Co-Investigator’s research organisations.

Unless specifically requested, please do not include any personal data within the attachment.

Upload details are provided within the service on the actual application.

For audit purposes, UKRI requires formal collaboration agreements to be put in place if an award is made.

Word count: 10

Section: Applicant and team capability to deliver

Question: why are you the right individual or team to successfully deliver the proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Evidence of how you, and if relevant your team, have:

  • the relevant experience (appropriate to career stage) to deliver the proposed work
  • the right balance of skills and expertise to cover the proposed work
  • the appropriate leadership and management skills to deliver the work and your approach to develop others

The word count for this section is 1500 words, 1000 words to be used for R4RI modules and, if necessary, a further 500 words for Additions.

Use the Résumé for Research and Innovation (R4RI) format to showcase the range of relevant skills you, and if relevant your team (investigators, researchers, other (technical) staff for example research software engineers, data scientists and so on, and partners), have and how this will help to deliver the proposed work. You can include individuals’ specific achievements but only choose past contributions that best evidence their ability to deliver this work.

Complete this section using the R4RI module headings listed below. You should use each heading once and include a response for the whole team, see the UKRI guidance on R4RI. You should consider how to balance your answer, and emphasise where appropriate the key skills each team member brings:

  • Contributions to the generation of new ideas, tools, methodologies, or knowledge
  • The development of others and maintenance of effective working relationships
  • Contributions to the wider research and innovation community
  • Contributions to broader research or innovation users and audiences and towards wider societal benefit

You should complete this as a narrative and you should avoid CV type format.

Word count: 1,500

Section: Outsourcing

Question: are you outsourcing any research activity?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If you are not, enter ‘N/A’ in the text box, mark this section as complete and move to the next question.

UKRI recognises that in some instances, it may be appropriate to outsource elements of the proposed work. If that is the case in this application, please provide the following information:

  • the scope of the outsourced activity, that means what is being undertaken and what will be delivered
  • the relevance of the outsourced activity to the application
  • why the outsourced activity cannot be undertaken in house
  • why this provider is the most appropriate
  • the cost or costs of the outsourced activity and the tendering process that has been followed.

Please provide any goods and services quotations.

Word count: 700

Section: Ethics and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)

Question: what are the ethical or RRI implications and issues relating to the proposed work? If you do not think that the proposed work raises any ethical or RRI issues, explain why.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Using the text box, demonstrate that you have identified and evaluated the relevant ethical or responsible research and innovation considerations, and how you will manage them.

If you are collecting or using data you should identify:

  • any legal and ethical considerations of collecting, releasing or storing the data including consent, confidentiality, anonymisation, security and other ethical considerations and, in particular, strategies taken to not preclude further reuse of data
  • formal information standards with which study will be compliant

Additional sub-questions (to be answered only if appropriate) relating to research involving:

  • animals
  • human participants
  • genetically modified organisms

Word count: 500

Section: Genetic and Biological Risk

Question: does your proposed research involve any genetic or biological risk?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If not, enter ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move on to the next section.

In respect of animals, plants or microbes, are you proposing to:

  • use genetic modification as an experimental tool, like studying gene function in a genetically modified organism
  • release genetically modified organisms
  • ultimately develop commercial and industrial genetically modified outcomes?

If yes, provide the name of any required approving body and state if approval is already in place. If it is not, provide an indicative timeframe for obtaining the required approval.

Identify the organism or organisms as a plant, animal or microbe and specify the species and which of the three categories the research relates to.

Identify the genetic and biological risks resulting from the proposed research, their implications and any mitigation you plan on taking. Assessors will want to know you have considered the risks and their implications to justify that any identified risks do not outweigh any benefits of the proposed research.

Word count: 700

Section: Research involving the use of animals

Question: does your proposed research involve the use of vertebrate animals or other organisms covered by the Animals Scientific Procedures Act?

If not, enter ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and do the same for the next question.

If you are proposing research that requires using animals, write ‘Yes’ in the text box. Then download and complete this document (DOCX, 74KB), which contains all the questions relating to research using vertebrate animals or other Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 regulated organisms. Then, save it as a PDF.

Word count: 10

Section: Resources and cost justification

Question: what will you need to deliver your proposed work and how much will it cost?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Full economic costings template (DOCX, 96KB).

Use the resources and cost summary table to enter the full costs. Include high-level costs only, not a breakdown of individual items. Use the Justification text box to demonstrate how the resources you anticipate needing for your proposed work:

  • are comprehensive, appropriate, and justified
  • represent the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes
  • maximise potential outcomes and impacts

This section should not simply be a list of the resources requested, as this will already be given in the detailed ‘costs’ table. Costings should be justified on the basis of full economic costs (FEC) of the project, not just on the costs expected from UKRI. For some items we do not expect you to justify the monetary value, rather the type of resource, such as amount of time or type of staff requested.
Where you do not provide adequate justification for a resource, we may deduct it from any funding awarded.

You should identify:

  • support for activities to either increase impact, for public engagement, knowledge exchange or to support responsible innovation
  • support for access to facilities, infrastructure or procurement of equipment
  • support for preserving, long-term storage, or sharing of data
  • support from your organisation or partner organisations and how that enhances value for money

Word count: 1,000

Section: References

Question: list the references you have used to support your application.

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Ensure your application is a self-contained description. You can provide hyperlinks to relevant publications or online resources. However, assessors are not obliged to access the information they lead to or consider it in their assessment of your application. You must not include links to web resources in order to extend your application. If linking to web resources, to ensure the information’s integrity is maintained include, where possible, persistent identifiers such as digital object identifiers.

Word count: 250

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process:

Panel

We will invite experts to collectively review your application against the criteria and rank it alongside other applications after which the panel will make a funding recommendation.

Timescale

We aim to complete the assessment process within 5 months of receiving your application.

Feedback

We will give feedback with the outcome of your application.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment (DORA) and recognise the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI Principles of Assessment and Decision Making.

We reserve the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

Assessment criteria

The primary assessment criteria relate to scientific and innovation potential, and industrial and stakeholder relevance.

Vision

The panel will consider the extent to which the proposed work:

  • is likely to be of excellent quality and importance within or beyond the field(s) or area(s)
  • has the potential to advance current understanding, generates new knowledge, thinking or discovery within or beyond the field or area
  • is timely given current trends, context and needs
  • will impact world-leading research, society, the economy or the environment, with relevance to horticulture in the UK

Approach

The panel will consider the extent to which the approach proposed by the applicants:

  • is effective and appropriate to achieve their objectives
  • is feasible, and comprehensively identifies any risks to delivery and how they will be managed
  • uses a clear and transparent methodology
  • will maximise translation of outputs into outcomes and impacts relevant to horticulture in the UK
  • describes how their, and if applicable their team’s, research environment (in terms of the place, its location and relevance to the project) will contribute to the success of the proposed work

Applicant and team capability to deliver

The panel will consider the evidence that the applicants, and their team, have:

  • the relevant experience (appropriate to career stage) to deliver the proposed work
  • the right balance of skills and expertise to cover the proposed work
  • the appropriate leadership and management skills to deliver the work and their approach to develop others

Resources and cost justification

The panel will consider to what extent the applicants have demonstrated that the anticipated resources for their proposed work:

  • are comprehensive, appropriate, and justified
  • represent the optimal use of resources to achieve the intended outcomes
  • maximise potential outcomes and impacts

Ethics and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)

The panel will consider whether the applicants have identified and evaluated the relevant ethical or responsible research and innovation considerations and have proposed appropriate approaches to management.

Contact details

Get help with your application

For help on costings and writing your application, contact your research office. Allow enough time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Email: support@funding-service.ukri.org

We aim to respond to emails within 2 working days.

Phone: 01793 547490

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm

Additional info

Project consortia

PACE horticulture may contribute towards the diversification of the agri-food system, potentially by complementing conventional field production by adding resilience at key points of vulnerability. Progress needs to be underpinned by research and innovation that supports the resilience of the sector. Growers seek to maintain reliable production of affordable, safe, and nutritious foods, while managing uncertainty and external shocks, such as labour, inflation, energy, invasive pests and diseases, and the availability of growing inputs including fertilisers and fresh water.

Collaborative research and innovation awards will enable academic and industry partners to build pre-competitive partnerships, exchange knowledge, and generate data and novel insights that deliver innovation and impact by addressing market failures.

Pre-competitive projects in PACE horticulture could stimulate the formation of a community with coordinated goals, able to identify opportunities for shared investment, and with the potential to collaborate to test proposed solutions within relevant systems. Improved connectivity could also enable better knowledge exchange, encouraging sharing of existing resources, and collective efforts to update previously established models and reference materials for shared benefit.

The projects will directly establish innovation-focused research consortia comprising of leading academic and industrial experts, aligned to a set of shared challenges developed in consultation with stakeholders representing the PACE horticulture sector. Together the consortia will form the core of an academic-industry community with a focus upon research and innovation.

Collaboration agreement

Any collaborative project funded through this initiative must have a signed collaboration agreement between the partners before the start of any grant.

UKRI attach great importance to the dissemination of research findings and the publishing of information about the research they support in the public domain. However, all dissemination and publication must be carried out in the manner agreed in the project’s collaboration agreement.

You should be familiar with UKRI requirements relating to the exploitation and impact of standard research grants as explained in in section RGC 12 of the UKRI terms and conditions for research grants.

If you plan to include international collaborators in your proposal you should view our trusted research guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration while protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.

Responsible innovation

Responsible innovation creates spaces and processes to explore innovation and its consequences in an open, inclusive and timely way, going beyond consideration of ethics, public engagement, risk and regulation.

Innovation is a collective responsibility, where funders, researchers, interested and affected parties, including the public, all have an important role to play.

BBSRC is fully committed to develop and promote responsible innovation. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor and to encourage our research community to do likewise.

Supporting documents

Equality and Impact Assessment (PDF, 178KB)

Webinar for potential applicants

We held a webinar on 28 March 2023. This provided more information about the opportunity and a chance to ask questions for applicants registering an Expression of Interest.

Watch the webinar recording on YouTube.

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