An illustration of a DNA molecule storing information. Depositphotos.jpg

Chinese Scientists Successfully Store Ancient Grotto Mural Images in DNA

Chinese researchers have been able to successfully store ancient grotto mural images in DNA, and have been able to recover them from a severely corrupted sample that was stored at seventy degrees Celsius for up to seventy days.


What does DNA have in common with a USB? You would probably say nothing at all. An organism’s genetic information is carried by DNA, the molecule that carries this information. Known as a double helix, DNA consists of two linked strands that wind around each other like a twisted ladder. So, what does this have to do with storage? Well, it turns out that a DNA molecule can be artificially modified into a durable, minuscule “digital museum,” which encodes biological information, researchers have revealed.

Chinese scientists have successfully encoded ten digital images of Dunhuang murals into 210,000 DNA strands using nucleotide sequences in a 6.8 MB zipped file, and they are able to accurately recover them from a severely corrupted sample that has been stored at 70 degrees Celsius for 70 days. There are some 45,000 square meters of murals in the Mogao Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Dunhuang City, northwest China.


High density, durability, and low maintenance costs make DNA data storage a rapidly developing technology. Despite this, in-vitro coding errors still pose a significant technical challenge. Research led by Yuan Yingjin from Tianjin University has developed a de novo, error-prone algorithm for assembling strands of DNA that allows mural curators to retrieve information accurately from DNA solutions stored at 9.4 degrees Celsius for over 20,000 years without any protection.

Their study published in Nature Communications found that 7.8 percent strand redundancy is enough to support reliable data recovery when the decoder receives more than 95 percent of strands. The National Science Review published Yuan’s research findings on a yeast artificial chromosome encoding two pictures and a video clip in 2021 DNA, according to researchers, can be used to protect and transmit cultural heritage to future generations, thanks to the latest breakthrough.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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