DNA: the most unusual molecule on earth

DNA_methylation

DNA:  the most unusual molecule on earth.

DNA Franklin Crick Watson

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In the cell is a nucleus and in the nucleus are forty-six chromosomes and in the chromosomes are long strands of deoxyribonucleic acid. How long are the strands of DNA? About two meters. So, in every one of the ten thousand trillion cells in your body are roughly six feet of deoxyribonucleic acid.

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Do you feel strung out or tied down? You have twenty million kilometers of DNA inside you.

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Each strand of deoxyribonucleic acid has 3.2 billion letters of coding which will enable more combinations than I can write here, but let’s just say the number would be a one followed by more than three billion zeros. You think you are unique?  Well, you are. And yet you are 99.9 % the same as everyone else and we are all related, but that is another story for another time.

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Although, our human species has evolved with a two-strand DNA found in each of the twenty-three pairs of chromosomes in every cell of the body, this was not our original blueprint.  There are extra strands sometimes called “junk” DNA.  These disconnected strands are really an essential part of our original genetic blueprint, and, who knows, they could be the most important of all, used for something that we have no idea exists.

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DNA, the very source of life, is not alive itself. As geneticist Richard Lewontin puts it, deoxyribonucleic acid is “among the most nonreactive, chemically inert molecules in the living world.”

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Because DNA is so inert, it can last a long time as the saga of Monica’s blue dress reminds us.   License plate photos:  Max Clarke

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In 1869, Johann Friedrich Miescher at the University of Tübingen in southern Germany, upstream from Mannheim, where Big Brother played not so long ago, was looking at the pus in surgical bandages through a microscope. He noticed that there was a large amount of a material he called nuclein because it was in the nuclei of cells.

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He thought this material nuclein must be important because there was so much of it. Later, in a letter to his uncle, Miescher suggested that these unusual molecules could have to do with heredity.  This was such an amazing insight that everyone ignored it for eighty-five years.

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They all assumed that DNA was too simple to transmit heredity since it had only four parts, or nucleotides.

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How could anything with just four basic elements carry the whole story of life?

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When we were young, our father taught us the morse code. It has just two basic components, a dot and a dash. You can write War and Peace with the morse code, and you can write all the other books in the world with it too.

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It became clear over time that DNA was an important part of making proteins, but proteins were made outside of the nucleus so how was DNA, inside the nucleus,  communicating the protein making instructions?

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Finally investigators realized that the medium of communication between DNA and the proteins outside of the cell was ribonucleic acid (RNA).

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So now everyone grasped that DNA was indeed paramount in the transmission of heredity, but what was its structure?  How did it do that transmitting?

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Who was going to be the first to describe how deoxyribonucleic acid actually worked?

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Improbably enough, the first people to crack the DNA code were four scientists in England, who a. were new to biochemistry, b. didn’t work together as a team, and c. were rather childish, competitive individuals who often didn’t speak to each other.

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James Watson (right) could have been Seymour Glass. He was a child prodigy, a member of The Quiz Kids, a highly popular radio program, he entered the University of Chicago at age fifteen, earned a PhD by twenty-two, and he had a full head of academically willful hair.

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“It was my hope,” wrote Watson, “that the gene might be solved without my learning any chemistry.”

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Maurice Wilkins was convinced from the outset that the DNA structure was helical.  Wilkins, the boffin (British slang for a nerdy science type) of the group, had worked on the atom bomb during World War II.

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Francis Crick wrote the story of his life and called it What Mad Pursuit. He wrote a seven page letter to his son here explaining what he and Watson had discovered in 1953, the double helix as the molecular structure of DNA. This letter recently sold at auction for the most that has ever been paid for a private letter.

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For this breaking of the genetic code, Crick, Watson and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1962 and Rosalind Franklin was not since the Nobel is awarded only to the living. It must be said that Rosalind Franklin, who played a large part in the project, was treated very shabbily in this whole affair.

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Men of science do not always behave nobly. They are human, after all, and as apt to act ignobly as the rest of us.  Rosalind Franklin’s images of X-ray diffraction confirming the helical structure of DNA were shown to Watson without her approval or knowledge.

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Rosalind Franklin came to King’s College, London, in early 1951 and that summer she took the famous ‘Photo 51′ and made important studies of the DNA molecule. Francis Crick and James Watson of Cambridge University “obtained” Photo 51, and some of Franklin’s data and with their own deductions built the first correct model of the DNA molecule.

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Franklin’s habit of intensely looking people in the eye while being concise, impatient and directly confrontational to the point of abrasiveness unnerved many of her colleagues, but this is no excuse for some of the chicanery that went on with her private papers.

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Rosalind Franklin was female and Jewish, and Crick and Watson were male, immature and not a little pigheaded.

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Rosalind Franklin died in 1958 at the age of 37 of ovarian cancer.  One key ingredient to winning the Nobel is longevity. There are cases of Nobel laureates who won the prize fifty years after the work they had done. They had to be living, though. There are no posthumous Nobel awards.

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In 1921, Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel prize for work he had done in 1905. This was for his explanation of the photoelectric effect, because relativity was considered still somewhat controversial in 1921.

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Francis Crick, the son of a Northampton shoemaker, worked until 1976 in the Cambridge Laboratory for Molecular Biology before accepting a post as a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California.

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James Watson returned to America in 1956 and taught at Harvard for the next twenty years. He was director of the National Center for Human Genome Research from 1989 to 1992.

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Watson’s book The Double Helix (1967), compulsory reading for future biology students, is an entertaining tell all that almost ruined his friendship with Crick, who tried in vain to prevent it from being published.

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The Double Helix has more in common with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood than with, say, The History of the English Speaking Peoples. It’s not a scholarly history. It’s more like a memoir crossed with narrative non-fiction. As in the New Journalism, where the account of an event is inextricably mixed with the writer’s personal circumstances and biases, The Double Helix doesn’t represent the objective truth about the search for the structure and function of DNA, but Watson’s own take on that research.

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I wish I were DNA Helicase, so I could unzip your genes.

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What does DNA stand for?   National Dyslexics Association.

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I wish I was adenine, then I could get paired with U.

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Did you just mutate for a stop codon? Because you’re talking nonsense!

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What did the shepherd say when he read that scientists were implanting human DNA in sheep?       Bloody hell, I’ve been doing that for years.

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Doctor:  Bad news, your DNA is backwards.       Patient:     And…?

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Ménage à trois!  Ligand seeks two receptors into binding and mutual phosphorylation. Let’s get together and transduce some signals.

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One strand of DNA to another strand of DNA:  Do these genes make me look fat?

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i am dna

See you next week?

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Kathi McDonald                                Sam Andrew

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Cathexis

001 Cathexis

Cathexis can be seen as the opposite of catharsis.  Catharsis is letting it all out. Cathexis is holding it all in, retaining it.

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Cathexis: the investment of the libido in objects. An example would be Freud’s cathexis of interest around sexuality.

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In German the everyday word that Freud uses for the learned, Greek term cathexis is Besetzung.  If we had an English equivalent of Besetzung it would be ‘a Besitting.’ The verb is besetzen:  to occupy.

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Given Freud’s fondness for mechanico-electric metaphors, a more accurate word than cathexis might be ‘charge.’   Besetz is the word used in public bathrooms to mean that someone is already using the facility. Ocupado.

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Grand passion    This book was written by Lucian Freud’s daughter.

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Esther Freud

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Cathexis is the investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object, or idea.

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James Strachey used the Greek word cathexis (κάθεξις) to translate Freud’s word Besetzung.   Why?  Besetzung was a perfectly good word. Why enshrine the term in some sort of pseudo classicism?

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Besetzung is a common word in German, a word that can mean ‘occupation’ or an ‘electrical charge.’  Or, was the word cathexis used, because of the meaning in this joke: When Angela Merkel flew to Greece, they asked her on the customs delaration, Besetzung (occupation) ?  And she wrote, “Oh, no, I’m just here for a few days.”

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This is where the translator can be a traitor. Look at the words id, ego, superego. Freud never wrote these words.  In German, he wrote it, I and over I.  Es, ich und überich. Freud didn’t use Latin. He used German. So when we read id, ego and superego, we have a very different idea of what Freud said from what he actually said. The same is true with cathexis. Freud wrote comfortable, everyday words and his translators used Greek and Latin terms, one of them, cathexis, entirely coined for the occasion. This is a betrayal of the person you are translating into English.  If Freud uses an everyday word like Besetzung, shouldn’t you use an everyday word like occupation to translate him? Maybe such a word as Besetzung was too loaded with a war time meaning? But, still, Freud was Jewish, so… ? People are hardly going to think Freud will use the word Besetzung in the same sense that German High Command did.

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The word cathexis was first used in 1922.

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I once knew a cat named Cathexis.   She mentioned that she came from Texas.  I said, “If that’s so, and I doubt it, you know, then your real name’s probably Alexis.

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In his psychoanalytic theory of personality, Freud suggested that psychic energy is generated by the libido (Libidobesetzung).  The sign says This uni (university) is occupied.

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Greek kathexisholding, retention, from katekheinto hold fast : kat-, kata-intensive pref.; see cata- + ekhein

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Steam punk psychiatry?   Freud often described the functioning of psychosexual energies in mechanical terms, influenced perhaps by the dominance of the steam engine at the end of the nineteenth century.

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Cathexis has entered pop culture, of course.  There is an episode of StarTrek called Cathexis. There are oil companies called Cathexis (!). The word is misused in all sorts of ways by the kind of people who think that the use of a polysyllable will make them sound important.

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From a television guide:   Cathexis is a collection of erotic stories and images where reality is transcended through sexual excess. An enchanting dominatrix reshapes a beautiful boy into her female plaything; A mysterious metal box creates organic hallucinations; A young woman becomes sexually obsessed with the creature left in her care.    Oh, boy. Where do they get this stuff?  I’m glad I don’t have to watch that.
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Remember the Orgasmatron in Sleeper?
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There was some cathecting going on in that room.
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Use cathexis in a sentence:     His frustration with his father was repressed, but re-emerged through a cathexis in relation to his boss.
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America was a mistake, a giant mistake.                     Sigmund Freud
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Sigmund Freud was a mistake, a giant mistake.       Sam Andrew       Although Lucian Freud was a great artist who worked hard and did some beautiful things.
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How the guys down the pub look at it:   Guy A: Man, have you seen Joe? What’s up with him lately?      Guy B: Being an obsessive stalker like always. This time his cathexis is the girl next door.     Guy A: That’s screwed up.
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Join LinkedIn and see how you are connected to Cathexis. It’s free.              Uh, no, thank you.
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Cathexis Oil and Gas is a well capitalized private oil and gas company located in downtown Houston. Cathexis will participate in non-op as well as operated opportunities utilizing industry best practices. Areas of interest span all of North America.             Uh, no, thank you.
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That kind of selfish, spiritually destructive, motherly cathexis is best perpetrated on geese, dogs and a cat.         Uh, no, I don’t think so.
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`The cathexis between mother and daughter-essential, distorted, misused – is the great unwritten story.         And why don’t we leave it that way?
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A band called Cathexis plays death metal down in Austin, Texas.         Well, OK, as long as I don’t have to listen to it.  I’m sure that they are very talented, though.
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Cathexis is related to obsession. It is the concentration of mental energy on one particular person, idea, or object (especially to an unhealthy degree).
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Now this I can relate to.  I’ve been obsessed with one thing or another all my life.
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When used to define narcissism, the term cathexis refers to the fact that one experiences one’s self-concept as inseparable from one’s self. It highlights the intimate integration of this self-concept. It becomes easier to understand if we think of it in relation to the integration of the sense of identity. Cathexis, then, means the integration of one’s identity. We term this integration, in our work, self-realization. In other words, the cathexis of the self is a psychoanalytic concept that approximates our concept of the realization of the self.          Hmmmm.   Maybe I will listen to that death metal after all.
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“I’d been to 20 N. Moore Street and watched the throngs of `mourners’ making instant cathexis for the cameras, `identifying’ with the young `victims’ as avatars of Camelot cut down in their prime, a perfect couple who embodied our hopes and dreams, symbols of America’s longing for nobility, etc.” Guy Trebay, Eyes Wide Shut, The Village Voice, Aug 3, 1999
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The notion of a cathexis is closely similar to the philosophical idea of an “intentional” state, which derives from Franz Brentano, Freud’s teacher and mentor. Freud initially held the object of a cathexis always to be intrapsychic, a position which is untenable and which he largely abandoned after 1915, when he began (correctly) to take cathected objects generally to be persons or events, not their representations. His idea of a cathexis as “entering into” its object contains a valuable and neglected insight, which undermines the centrality of the distinction between the “outer” and “inner” realms of experience. This distinction should not be confused with the key distinction between “fantasy” and “actuality” with respect to cathectic objects. So-called “inner” (fantasy) objects are generally “inside” the mind in a metaphorical sense only. (Psychiatric words found on the Net)
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Keep in mind that Freud never used the word cathexis. He could have. He could have easily coined the word Kathexis in German. But he didn’t. He used an ordinary word Besetzung and he was happy with it and didn’t look for another word.   The placard says This concert hall is occupied.
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Cathexis is the city where humanity (of a sort) has reëmerged following a global transcendence into the Collective Reexistence, the unified psychic ocean of all human identity.                   (Game instructions on the Internet)
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The narcissist cathexes (emotionally invests) with grandiosity everything he owns or does: his nearest and dearest, his work, his environment. But, as time passes, this pathologically intense aura fades. The narcissist finds fault with things and people he had first thought impeccable. He energetically berates and denigrates that which he equally zealously exulted and praised only a short while before.
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The man who wrote the above then writes:     Why is it, then, that when I revert to my writing a mere few weeks later, I find the syntax tortured, the grammar shoddy, the choice of words forced, the whole piece repulsively bloviated, and the ideas hopelessly tangled and dim?         Why not try writing something concrete and real, then instead of a lot of convoluted claptrap that you don’t even understand or believe yourself?
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Fuck the jargon.  Keep it short and concise.
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When you are beset (besetzt) by someone or something, you are occupied with it. It takes up your whole space. You are possessed.
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 Sentimental attachment to a keepsake, a family heirloom, or a photograph would be an example of cathexis.
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Patriotism and other impassioned identifications with groups and systems of belief are also forms of cathexis.
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This is often why you are not going to talk someone out of being, say, a conservative.
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People hold all kinds of beliefs for rational reasons, irrational reasons, and for reasons that they are not even conscious of.
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When you have an argument with a partner or friend and it is on your mind, you can keep going over it, thinking about it, what will happen if you do this, what won’t happen if you do this, and so on, you are investing mental and emotional energy in that situation, event, and person. This is a fairly common thing, right? This must happen to everyone.
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His cathexis on stamp collecting is becoming tiresome.
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Is that a good sentence?  It doesn’t seem like a good sentence.  It feels as if the word cathexis has been dragged in there.  It doesn’t feel natural.
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Alison Bechdel wrote this:   In a narcissistic cathexis, you invest more energy into your ideas about another person than in the actual, objective, external person.
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That’s much better, isn’t it?  It actually makes sense, and we have all had this experience.
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Wait a minute. I’ve seen this gastrocnemius before.  (gastro = belly and kneme = leg)  The belly of the leg = calf.
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Well, hey, how much sense does calf make anyway? Gastrocnemius is a much more descriptive word, although it may not hurt to translate it into English:  legbelly.
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Your cathexis is scratching my dogma.
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Donald Rumsfeld’s cathexis with power blinded him, and still blinds him, to the real harm that he did to many people during his Shock and Awe period. He thinks that a simple trademarked grin is going to carry him over his callous irresponsibility to millions of people.
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At least Robert McNamara learned something.
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See you next week?
Sam piano Stürmann
Sam Andrew
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