Preserving documents on DNA

The digitized versions of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen by Olympe de Gouges, have been fixed on DNA and deposited at the Archives Nationales, Content Provider for Archives Portal Europe. This is the first time that a public institution adopts such technology.

The preservation of digital data on DNA is a stable and durable medium, guaranteed for hundreds of thousands of years, highly concentrated (billions of documents can be stored in a single microcapsule), and most importantly it does not require energy to be preserved, making it both resilient and environmentally sustainable.

DNA storage of digital documents, theorised since the 1950s and applied since 2012, is based on the conversion of binary numerical data (0 or 1) into letters corresponding to the four bricks of DNA (A, T, C, G or Adenosine, Thymine, Cytosine, Guanine, the nucleotides forming DNA). The sequence of nucleotides is then synthesized on DNA fragments that can be stored on various supports, such as paper, a tube, a metal capsule, etc. The DNA is encrypted so that it does not carry any genetic information that could be dangerous. The stored information can then be read using DNA sequencers, similar to those used in biology and medicine for genome sequencing, which converts it back into binary data in order to access the original file.

The technology DNA Drive, developed by the French Centre for National Research (CNRS) and Sorbonne University during the project “The Revolution of DNA”, was tested on these two fundamental texts of French (and world) culture, in collaboration with the French National Archives. Bioinformatics engineers worked side by side historians to decide which version of the documents should be encoded. Read more on the France Archive blog here.

Capsules containing the two DNA-encoded texts. Photo by Stéphane Lemaire from CNRS – Sorbonne Université. Available at https://www.sorbonne-universite.fr/en/news/dna-data-storage-revolutionary-technology

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