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This Week in Science: Mar 3, 2017

In this week's Science, two researchers from the New York Genome Center describe a new method for storing digital data in small amounts of DNA. Called DNA Fountain, the approach relies on coding technique whereby information is randomly packaged and then reassembled in order. Specifically, more oligonucleotides are encoded to with information than required, and high-quality oligonucleotides are prioritized over damaged ones to minimize error. As a result, stored data can be conveyed even if some oligos are damaged. The researchers used the method to encode and retrieve a single compressed file of 2,146,816 bytes — which included a complete graphical operating system, a movie, and other files.

Meanwhile, in Science Translational Medicine, a multi-institute research team presents a rapid, non-invasive method to detect radiation exposure. The technique uses microRNAs as biomarkers, and the team identified a signature of five miRNAs in circulation that could be used to accurately diagnose radiation exposure in non-human primates within 24 hours with 95 percent sensitivity and specificity. While testing the method in humans is not possible, the researchers note that all of the miRNAs are evolutionarily conserved across mice, primates, and humans. They add that additional validation with larger numbers of independent samples will be needed to account for potential variation in tissue handling, sample collection, and other technical factors.