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Data storage in DNA with fewer synthesis cycles using composite DNA letters

An Author Correction to this article was published on 16 September 2019

This article has been updated


The density and long-term stability of DNA make it an appealing storage medium, particularly for long-term data archiving. Existing DNA storage technologies involve the synthesis and sequencing of multiple nominally identical molecules in parallel, resulting in information redundancy. We report the development of encoding and decoding methods that exploit this redundancy using composite DNA letters. A composite DNA letter is a representation of a position in a sequence that consists of a mixture of all four DNA nucleotides in a predetermined ratio. Our methods encode data using fewer synthesis cycles. We encode 6.4 MB into composite DNA, with distinguishable composition medians, using 20% fewer synthesis cycles per unit of data, as compared to previous reports. We also simulate encoding with larger composite alphabets, with distinguishable composition deciles, to show that 75% fewer synthesis cycles are potentially sufficient. We describe applicable error-correcting codes and inference methods, and investigate error patterns in the context of composite DNA letters.

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Fig. 1: Encoding a binary message using standard and composite DNA.
Fig. 2: Encoding pipeline of a large-scale composite DNA-based data storage.
Fig. 3: Performance of a large-scale composite DNA-based storage system.
Fig. 4: Analysis of higher-resolution composite alphabets using large-scale experiments.
Fig. 5: Data storage systems based on large composite alphabets.

Data availability

All raw sequencing data are available from the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) under accession PRJEB32427. This includes sequencing of the large-scale experiment described in Figs. 24, sequencing of the experiment with large alphabets described in Fig. 5 and sequencing of the error analysis experiment described in Fig. 5. All other data are available within the article or its supplementary information.

Code availability

All original software code included in this study is available online. Alteration of the previously published DNA fountain code to support composite DNA is available from Code used for Reed–Solomon error correction (altered from previously published code) is available from Custom code used for the analyses presented in this study is available from

Change history

  • 16 September 2019

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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We thank T. Katz-Ezov and T. Hashimshony from the Technion Genome Center for advice and assistance with oligonucleotide design and sequencing experiments. We also thank P. Weiss from Twist Bioscience for technical support and assistance with DNA synthesis. Finally, we thank the Yakhini and Amit research groups for valuable comments and discussions. L. Anavy is supported by the Adams Fellowships Program of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. This project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement 664918 (MRG-Grammar).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



L.A. and Z.Y. initiated and designed the coding and algorithmic approach. L.A. developed the software and performed data analysis. I.V. and O.A. performed the experiments. L.A., R.A. and Z.Y. wrote the manuscript. R.A. and Z.Y. supervised the study.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Leon Anavy or Zohar Yakhini.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

L.A, Z.Y and R.A are the inventors of a patent application for the method described in this article. The initial filing was assigned United States Provisional Patent Application No. 62/674,114. The remaining authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–17 and Supplementary Note

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table 1

Physical density calculations of composite DNA storage. This includes the large-scale experiment and the dilution experiment.

Supplementary Table 2

Logical density calculations of composite DNA storage. This includes all the experiments, theoretical encodings and simulation experiments.

Supplementary Table 3

Oligonucleotide design for large-alphabet experiments and error analysis.

Supplementary Table 4

Oligonucleotide design for the large-scale composite DNA storage.

Supplementary Table 5

Oligonucleotide design for the simulations of large composite alphabet DNA storage.

Supplementary Table 6

Simulation results of large composite alphabet DNA storage

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Anavy, L., Vaknin, I., Atar, O. et al. Data storage in DNA with fewer synthesis cycles using composite DNA letters. Nat Biotechnol 37, 1229–1236 (2019).

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