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    The Cambridge World History of Food
    • Online ISBN: 9781139058636
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Book description

An undertaking without parallel or precedent, this monumental volume encapsulates much of what is known of the history of food and nutrition. It constitutes a vast and essential chapter in the history of human health and culture. Ranging from the eating habits of our prehistoric ancestors to food-related policy issues we face today, this work covers the full spectrum of foods that have been hunted, gathered, cultivated, and domesticated; their nutritional make-up and uses; and their impact on cultures and demography. It offers a geographical perspective on the history and culture of food and drink and takes up subjects from food fads, prejudices, and taboos to questions of food toxins, additives, labelling, and entitlements. It culminates in a dictionary that identifies and sketches out brief histories of plant foods mentioned in the text - over 1,000 in all - and additionally supplies thousands of common names and synonyms for those foods.


‘Top of the league … there is enough in the two volumes to keep the curious happy for Christmases to come.’

Matthew Fort Source: The Guardian

‘Unparalleled in its knowledge and content.’

Source: BBC Good Food Magazine

‘Anyone looking for something in the ‘oh, you shouldn’t have!’ category could do worse than give The Cambridge World History of Food’.

Source: The Sunday Telegraph

‘If you have a very special gourmet in your life, this is the Christmas present for them … This book is so fascinating that you could spend a whole year dipping into it.’

Source: Healthy Eating

‘A weighty tome packed with culinary wisdom, which is ideal for lazy browsing.’

Source: Waitrose Food Illustrated

‘An essential addition to the library of any serious chef, culinary educator, or devotee of fine cuisine.’

Source: Cuizine

'… if you want to know a bit more about what you're actually cooking, this really is all about food, including its political and social history. Utterly fascinating and a most welcome gift for the sort of person who likes to delve that bit deeper into everyday things.'

Source: The Independent

‘… Factual Feast …'

Source: Condé Nast Traveller

‘In a word: Wow … The World History of Food is part fascinating reading, part essential reference tool. What’s not in here doesn’t exist.’

Source: USA Today

‘[A] formidably wide-ranging work.’

Source: Economist

‘It’s hard not to feel a giggly kind of pleasure at the full extent of knowledge on display in the Cambridge World History of Food.’

Source: The New Yorker

‘[A] tour de force. … With information that is up-to-date, a format that is easy to use and a fresh, engaging approach to their subject, Kiple and Ornelas have prepared a magnificent resource.’

Source: Publishers Weekly

‘This treasure trove of knowledge about food is so interesting and useful that I have only one regret. I wish that it had been available earlier, to spare me (and you) the effort of tracking down hundreds of different sources now summarized here. Whether you are a cook, gourmet, or glutton, an archaeologist, physiologist, or historian, you will be browsing these two volumes for years to come.’

Jared Diamond - author of Guns, Germs, and Steel

‘An outstanding new reference source … The Cambridge World History of Food is a remarkable work of scholarship and is highly recommended.’

Source: Library Journal (starred)

‘A magisterial achievement. Food has long been central to humankind’s relationship to the earth, and anyone interested in that relationship will find here an endless source of knowledge and insight. The book’s perspective is sweeping, its ecological and cultural significance is profound.'

Donald Worster - University of Kansas

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Page 1 of 5

  • I.1 - Dietary Reconstruction and Nutritional Assessment of Past Peoples: The Bioanthropological Record
    pp 13-34
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    This chapter presents an overview of the basic characteristics of human nutriture and the history of human diet. It examines specific means for reconstructing diet from analysis of human skeletal remains. Skeletal remains from archaeological sites play a special role in dietary reconstruction because they provide the direct evidence of food consumption practices in past societies. The chapter reviews how the quality of nutrition has been assessed in past populations using evidence garnered by many researchers from paleopathological and skeletal studies and from observations of human beings. The renewal of cortical bone tissue is unique in that the process involves destruction followed by replacement with new tissue. A final approach to assessing the nutritional and health status of contemporary and archaeological populations has to do with the analysis of enamel defects in the teeth, particularly hypoplasias.
  • I.2 - Paleopathological Evidence of Malnutrition
    pp 34-44
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    This chapter discusses skeletal abnormalities associated with nutritional diseases for which there is archaeological skeletal evidence in various geographical areas and time periods in the Old World. These diseases are: vitamin D deficiency, vitamin C deficiency, iron deficiency, fluorosis, and protein-calorie deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. In general, these conditions should be rare in societies where exposure to sunlight is common, as the body can synthesize vitamin D precursors with adequate sunlight. Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, a condition that is seen in both children and adults. Iron deficiency is a common nutritional problem in many parts of the world. Two-thirds of women and children in developing countries are iron deficient. Protein-energy malnutrition, or protein-calorie deficiency, covers a range of syndromes from malnutrition to starvation. The best-known clinical manifestations are seen in children in the form of kwashiorkor and marasmus.
  • I.3 - Dietary Reconstruction As Seen in Coprolites
    pp 44-51
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    Reconstructing prehistoric human diets is a vast process requiring a variety of assemblages and disciplines to obtain a complete picture. This chapter discusses the new approaches to dietary reconstruction, inlcuding regional syntheses, nutritional analyses, protein residues analysis and gender specificity. Coprolites are a unique resource for analyzing prehistoric diet because their constituents are mainly the undigested or incompletely digested remains of food items that were actually eaten. A variety of microremains can be analyzed from coprolites. These constituents include spores and fungi, bacteria, viruses, and, recently, phytoliths. The most frequently analyzed microremains from coprolites are pollen and parasites. The presence of parasites observed in coprolites can help determine the amount of disease present in populations and indicate much about the subsistence and general quality of life. Nutritional status can also be affected by parasite infection, which sedentism tends to encourage.
  • I.4 - Animals Used for Food in the Past: As Seen by Their Remains Excavated from Archaeological Sites
    pp 51-58
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    Animal remains excavated from archaeological sites are, to a large extent, the remnants of animals that were used for food. These remains include the fragmentary bones and teeth of vertebrates, the shells of mollusks, the tests of echinoderms, and the exoskeletal chitin of crustacea and insects. Human technology applied to food procurement and preparation is one of the factors responsible for the broad diet that sets humans apart from other animals and has made their worldwide distribution possible. Different levels of extraction of animal foods from the environment obviously can affect the composition of the diet. The remains of animals used for food consist of the supporting tissues, which are composed of inorganic and organic compounds. Optimum recovery of faunal material is clearly essential for reconstruction of past diets. Animal exploitation in different ecosystems, including riverine versus coastal, continental versus island and Arctic versus humid tropics are discussed.
  • I.5 - Chemical Approaches to Dietary Representation
    pp 58-63
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    Chemical approaches to dietary representation, especially of past groups, can be fascinating, frustrating, and fulfilling. The types of data with dietary significance range from recovered plant and animal remains through evidence of pathology associated with diet, growth disruption patterns, and coprolite contents. Initial anthropological bone chemical research focused primarily on the inorganic mineral phase of bone, which typically makes up 75 to 80 percent of the dry weight, and was concerned with the dietary contrasts and trophic levels of early hominids, hunter gatherers, and agriculturalists. Chemical concentrations within bone vary from one bone to another and even in different portions of an individual bone, understandably, earlier comparative studies were difficult before this fact was recognized. The sampling of past contributions with in anthropological bone chemical research reflects three major thrusts related to diet: trophic level, temporal change. The general trophic level of past human diets was first investigated by strontium and strontium/calcium ratios.
  • I.6 - History, Diet, and Hunter-Gatherers
    pp 63-71
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    In the years since 1960 there has been a dramatic change in our perception of the diet, nutrition, and health of hunter-gatherers. Studies of African hunter-gatherers by Richard Lee and James Woodburn, suggested that far from living on the edge of starvation, primitive hunter-gatherers frequently enjoyed not only adequate and well-balanced nutrition but also a relatively light workload. An important factor that must be considered in assessing the diets of hunter-gatherers is their comparative freedom from parasites, which affect the nutritional value of diets in a variety of ways. Actual tests of the relative efficiency of various foraging techniques indicate that prehistoric hunter-gatherers in environments richer in large game than that occupied by contemporary counterparts. Although controversies remain about the quality and quantity of food available to modern and ancient hunter-gatherers, there is dispute that there have significant changes in dietary texture throughout history.
  • II.A - Grains
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    A robust annual herb with seeds as small as mustard seeds, amaranth belongs to the genus Amaranthus of the family Amaranthaceae, with 50 to 60 species scattered throughout the world in wild and domesticated forms. The principal advantage of amaranth is that both the grain and the leaves are sources of high-quality protein. It can be cultivated on marginal soils subject to periodic dry spells, which is an important consideration in semiarid regions. Wild amaranth seeds were gathered by many Native American peoples. As such, they may have contributed significant protein, as well as essential vitamins, to hunting and gathering populations after the big game animals died out in the Americas. Most descriptions of cultivated amaranths in Asia are modern, from the nineteenth century on, with a few eighteenth-century references to a European role in diffusing the American plants from Europe to Asia. A. cruentus is widespread in Africa, and A. caudatus is used as an ornamental and grain amaranth.
  • II.A.2 - Barley
    pp 81-89
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    Domesticated barley was an important crop in human prehistory and provided many products to a wide range of settled peoples. Archaeological evidence points to the domestication of barley in concert with the emergence of Neolithic villages in the Levantine arc of the Fertile Crescent. The spread of barley not only indicates the success of a farming way of life but also offers important archaeological indicators to complement botanical and ecological evidence of the domestication and significance of this vital crop plant. Botanical studies have revealed relationships between species and varieties of barley and the precise nature of the changes that must have occurred under domestication. Today, barley is primarily important for animal feed, secondarily for brewing beer, and only marginally important as a human food. Perhaps the most significant expansion of domesticated barley was into the truly arid steppes and deserts of the Near East, where irrigation was critical to its survival.
  • II.A.3 - Buckwheat
    pp 90-97
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    Buckwheat is believed to be native to Manchuria and Siberia and, reportedly, was cultivated in China by at least 1000 B.C. There are three known species of buckwheat, such as common buckwheat, tartary buckwheat and perennial buckwheat. Scanning electron microscopy of the buckwheat kernel has revealed that the hull, spermoderm, endosperm, and embryo are each composed of several layers. This chapter presents the gross chemical components of whole buckwheat grain, the groats, and the hulls. It describes the mineral and vitamin contents of the whole grains. Starch is quantitatively the major component of buckwheat seed, and concentration varies with the method of extraction and between cultivars. The chapter also discusses the grading, handling, storage and primary processing of buckwheat. The pace of development of new food products from buckwheat is expected to increase. This will likely parallel the increasing consumer demand for foods capable of preventing or alleviating disease and promoting health.
  • II.A.4 - Maize
    pp 97-112
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    Maize is the most important human dietary cereal grain in Latin America and Africa and the second most abundant cultivated cereal worldwide. This chapter presents an overview of maize literature and geographic and cultural ranges of maize. The geographic and cultural ranges of maize are tributes to its high mutation rate, genetic diversity and adaptability, and continuing cultural selection for desirable characteristics. The chapter also discusses maize biodiversity industrial processing and diseases associated with Maize. Industrial processing utilizes either wet or dry milling. Wet milling steeps kernels in water, separates germ from kernel, and then separates germ into oil and meal portions. Maize is the preferred feedgrain for animals because it is so rich in fat and calories. Pellagra and protein-deficiency disease are historically associated with maize diets. Strategies for improving maize diets focus on new varieties with higher protein quality and essential vitamin contents, better storage, wiser milling and processing, fortification, and dietary diversification.
  • II.A.5 - Millets
    pp 112-121
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    Cereals that do not belong to the wheat, barley, oats, maize, or rice genera are commonly referred to as millets. This chapter provides information on Eurasian millets, Indian millets, African millets and American millets. The first cultivated cereal in the Americas appears to have been a species of Setaria. Archaeological records indicate that this millet was an important source of food in the Valley of Mexico and in northeastern Mexico before the domestication of maize. The Near Eastern cereals, wheat and barley, have been cultivated in North Africa since at least the late fifth millennium B.C. Wheat, rice, sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, foxtail millet, and maize are the most important cereals grown in India. Seven indigenous cereals, mostly grown on marginal agricultural land, were domesticated in India. Four millets, such as crab grass, proso millet, foxtail millet, and Japanese millet, are widely distributed across temperate Europe and Asia.
  • II.A.6 - Oat
    pp 121-132
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    Oat is the fifth most economically important cereal in world production after wheat, rice, corn, and barley. Oat is used primarily for animal feed, although human consumption has increased in recent years. The history of oat domestication parallels that of barley and wheat, the primary domesticated cereals of the Middle East. Oat breeding has remained a public sector activity, with a few notable exceptions, but some of these public sector programs in North America are dependent on the financial support of private sector end users in the food industry. The countries of the Former Soviet Union (FSU), North America, and Europe account for 90 percent of the world's oat production. The milling of oat for human food typically involves several steps: cleaning, drying, grading, dehulling, steaming, and flaking. Oat oil is nutritionally favorable because of a high proportion of unsaturated fatty acids, including the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid.
  • II.A.7 - Rice
    pp 132-149
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    Rice is a staple food for nearly one-half of the world's population. Rice is a member of the grass family and belongs to the genus Oryza under tribe Oryzeae. The origin of rice was long shrouded by disparate postulates because of the distribution of the 20 wild species across four continents. During the early phase of human cultivation and selection, a number of morphological and physiological changes began to emerge. This chapter summarizes a number of significant events selected from the voluminous historical records on rice to illustrate the concurrent progression in its cultivation techniques and the socio-politico-economic changes that accompanied this progression. The expansion of rice cultivation in China involved interactions and exchanges in cultural developments, human migration, and progress in agricultural technology. A majority of rice farmers can upgrade their yields if they correctly and efficiently perform the essential cultivation practices of fertilization, weed and pest control, and water management.
  • II.A.8 - Rye
    pp 149-152
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    Rye or Secale cereale L., is closely related to the genus Triticum and has sometimes been included within that genus. There is evidence for the ancient cultivation of rye in the Near East dating back to the Neolithic. Rye reached Europe at the dawn of the region's Neolithic Revolution, but probably as a weed. The proportions of rye, however, were greater in some grain assemblages from Bronze Age sites. Many have assumed that rye was cultivated as a Bronze Age crop, especially in eastern central Europe. Pollen and macrofossil evidence show that rye became more common during the Pre-Roman Iron Age, perhaps in those winter crop fields on the less favorable soils just described. During the Middle Ages, rye became a very important crop in many parts of Europe. As agriculture was introduced to marginal mountainous landscapes, the cultivation of rye was frequently the best alternative.
  • II.A.9 - Sorghum
    pp 152-158
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    Grain sorghum is a native African cereal now also widely grown in India, China, and the Americas. Sorghum ranks fifth in world cereal grain production, and fourth in value as a cereal crop. The grass genus Sorghum Moench is one of immense morphological variation. It is taxonomically subdivided into sections Chaetosorghum, Heterosorghum, Parasorghum, Stiposorghum, and Sorghum. The domesticated sorghum complex is morphologically variable. It includes wild, weed, and domesticated taxa that are divided by J. D. Snowden among 28 cultivated species, 13 wild species, and 7 weed species. Domestication is initiated when seeds from planted populations are harvested and sown in human-disturbed habitats, and it continues as long as the planting and harvesting processes are repeated in successive generations. The wild progenitor of cultivated sorghums is the widely distributed race verticilliflorum. Sorghum is an important rain-fed cereal in the semi arid tropics. In Asia, the major sorghum-producing countries are China, India, Thailand, Pakistan, and Yemen.
  • II.A.10 - Wheat
    pp 158-174
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    Wheat, a grass that today feeds 35 percent of the earth's population, appeared as a crop among the world's first farmers 10,000 years ago. Botanical and archaeological evidence for wheat domestication constitutes one of the most comprehensive case studies in the origins of agriculture. While archaeologists recognize the momentous developments set in motion by food production in the ancient Near East, they continue to debate the essential factors that first caused people to begin farming wheat and barley. To domesticate wheat, humans must have manipulated wild wheats, either through selective gathering or deliberate cultivation, with the latter implying activities such as preparing ground, sowing, and eliminating competing plants. The earliest remains of domesticated plants are the charred seeds and plant parts found on archaeological sites that date to the beginning of the Neolithic period. Botanical and ecological evidence for the domestication of wheat and its differentiation into many species also partially contributes to an understanding of the first domestication.
  • II.B - Roots, Tubers, and Other Starchy Staples
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    Bananas and plantains are starchy berries produced by hybrids and/or sports of Musa acuminata Colla and Musa balbisiana. Bananas are entirely restricted to largely tropical wet zones of the earth. Their growth is limited by temperature in areas where water is not limited and by water availability in the warmest climates. The major usage of bananas is as a starch source for local consumption by tropical traditional cultures. More than 500 varieties of bananas are recognized worldwide, although many of these are probably related lineages with differing regional names. Extensive research into the genetics, taxonomy, propagation, and distribution of bananas has been carried out by N.W.Simmonds and R.H.Stover. Bananas are afflicted with diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Bananas are also susceptible to damage from nematodes, insect larvae, and adult insects. This chapter discusses the economic importance and specific cultural usages of banana in various countries, including Southeast Asia, Africa, Oceania and United States.
  • II.B.2 - Manioc
    pp 181-187
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    From a present-day perspective, the contribution of the American crop, manioc, to the world's food supply has largely been unheralded except by Brazilians, by a few historians such as William Jones in his classic Manioc in Africa, and by French officials such as Paul Hubert and Emile Dupré in Le Manioc. There are two principal varieties of manioc, such as the sweet and bitter. Manioc roots are resistant to locust plagues and to destructive predators, such as wild pigs, baboons, and porcupines. As a food, manioc is very versatile because it can be boiled in a mush, roasted, baked, and even consumed as a pudding or alcoholic beverage. Although scholars agree that manioc was domesticated in the Americas, there is doubt about the exact location, even though the largest variety of species survives in Brazil. Possible areas of origin include Central America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Archaeological evidence for ancient manioc usage also exists in the Caribbean.
  • II.B.3 - Potatoes (White)
    pp 187-201
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    This chapter presents the paradoxical history of the potato (Solanum tuberosum) in human food systems. Potato is now the fourth most important world food crop, surpassed only by wheat, rice, and maize. The chapter discusses the archaeological evidence for the origins of potato domestication, biocultural evolution of potato and potato's transformation in Europe from an anti-famine food crop to a catalyst of famine. The potato originated in the South American Andes, but its heartland of wild genetic diversity reaches from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile across the Pampa and Chaco regions of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and southern Brazil and northward into Central America, Mexico, and the southwestern United States. Potatoes may yet experience their greatest contribution to nutrition and help put an end to hunger, not directly as food but as a component of diversified agro-ecosystems and an industrial cash crop.
  • II.B.4 - Sago
    pp 201-207
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    Sago is an edible starch derived from the pith of a variety of sago palms, but mostly from two species of the genus Metroxylon, such as M. sagu and M. rumphii. This chapter discusses history, cultivation, and production of sago. By most accounts, the sago palm was essential to the early inhabitants of Southeast Asia, and was probably one of the first plants they exploited as part of their subsistence strategy. Although sago extraction methods differ somewhat throughout cultures and regions, there are procedures common to all. At the domestic level, the entire process of sago extraction takes place in the grove itself, thus eliminating the need to transport heavy palm trunks. In New Guinea and neighboring islands, Metroxylon has been exploited as a food. Sago can be used like any other starch, and peoples familiar with it have developed numerous ways of preserving and consuming it. Nutritional supplements are vital to a diet centering on sago.
  • II.B.5 - Sweet Potatoes and Yams
    pp 207-218
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    The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, and the yams, genus Dioscorea are root crops that today nurture millions of people within the world's tropics. This chapter reviews the questions surrounding the early dispersals of these plants, in the case of the sweet potato from the New World to the Old, and in the case of yams their transfers within the Old World. Archaeological evidence gives a date of at least 2000 B. C. for the presence of the domesticated sweet potato in the New World, while suggesting a possible domesticated form as early as 8000 B. C. There are four domesticated yams that are important to agricultural development: D. alata and D. esculenta from Southeast Asia, and D. rotundata and D. cayenensis from West Africa. The fundamental evidence for the antiquity of domesticated Southeast Asian yams and other cultivars is linguistic and lies within words for the whole assemblage of plants and animals making up Southeast Asian root crop agriculture.
  • II.B.6 - Taro
    pp 218-230
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    Taro is the common name of four different root crops that are widely consumed in tropical areas around the world. Taro is especially valued for its starch granules, which are easily digested through the bloodstream, thus making it an ideal food for babies, elderly persons, and those with digestive problems. This chapter discusses the botanical features of four taros, such as colocasia taro, alocasia taro, cyrtosperma taro and xanthosoma taro. Taro is a very important foodstuff in those societies that use it, both in the household and also for feasts and exchanges. The chapter also discusses the origins, geographic spread, commercialization, production and nutritional value of all taros. All the taros must be cooked very thoroughly because of the oxalic acid crystals in the outer layer of the corm and in the leaves. Thorough cooking reduces the toxicity, and the earth oven allows whole taros to be covered and steamed on hot rocks for two hours or more.
  • II.C - Important Vegetable Supplements
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    Algae are simple, nucleated plants divided into seven taxa: Chlorophyta, Charophyta, Euglenophyta, Chrysophyta, Phaeophyta, Pyrrophyta and Rhodophyta. The earliest archaeological evidence for the consumption of algae found thus far was discovered in ancient middens along the coast of Peru. Kelp was found in middens at Pampa, dated to circa 2500 B.C. The cyanobacteria Nostoc spp. grow in Andean lakes and ponds and are also presently used as food. Algae and cyanobacteria are now consumed in all countries that possess marine coasts as well as in countries where algae are abundant in lakes, streams, ponds, and rivers. Seaweeds have been exploited for fertilizer by coastal farmers for centuries in Europe, North America, the Mediterranean, and Asia. This chapter discusses the gross chemical composition of algae, including amino acid composition, polysaccharides, hydrocolloids, vitamins, lipids, fatty acids, steroids, essential oils and pharmacologically active molecules.

Page 1 of 5

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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