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Genetic Engineering is the New Nuke

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"Biotechnology promises the greatest revolution in human history. By the end of this decade, it will have outdistanced atomic power and computers in its effect on our everyday lives."
Introduction to Jurassic Park

Once upon a time, superheroes inevitably gained their superpowers from radiation, the latest and most mysterious-yet-powerful fad of the 50s and 60s.

Technology Marches On, however, and gene splicing has replaced atom smashing as the most glamorous sciencey stuff: nowadays, many modern remakes of classic superheroes go with Genetic Engineering. Be it a bite from a genetically engineered spider, or exposure to it in a freak accident, genetically engineered origins are the Phlebotinum for the 21st century. It is worth noting that in Real Life rarely are the effects of genetic engineering anything like those portrayed in speculative fiction yet.


Genetic Engineering also lends itself to being weaponized to do exactly the same thing as those ultracool nukes that kill people but leave buildings standing. Now that a nuclear apocalypse is substantially less likely (or at least less likely to wipe us all out), and chemical weapons just aren't destructive enough in terms of human life, biological weapons make a nice scary (and vague) alternative.

Synthetic Plagues may be one of the most mundane examples, but they're certainly one of the most obviously dangerous. A Bioweapon Beast is as genetically-designed Attack Animal, for when it needs to be more obviously monstrous.

May lead to Bio-Augmentation and Mutants, or even mutant creatures to horrible to describe. Superpowerful Genetics may either come from this, or have a hand on the engineering overall.


It's also interesting to note the other favourite sources of weirdness used by SF writers before the advent of nuclear physics.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature is about Osamu Tezuka's fear about what happens when people play with genetics.
  • The God Warriors from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind are both nuclear powered & genetically engineered, in addition to being cyborgs. At least they were honest-to-goodness products of super-science, designed and built from the ground up to be what they were, not mooks with upgrades.
  • The Germa Empire in One Piece is very guilty of this. As shown in a flashback, according to the Germa king Vinsmoke Judge, all of his children are the result of heavy genetic engineering and has virtually limitless potential. They were also programmed to have utter Lack of Empathy because Judge saw it as a removable weakness, hence why Vinsmoke Ichiji, Niji, and Yonji are monstrous assholes. Only Sanji (whose enhancements were rendered null thanks to the drug his mother took to save him) and Reiju still have their mother's compassion.
  • The Super Soldiers in Lyrical Nanoha. Artifical Mages are genetically engineered so they will be born with full combat mage capabilities. Combat Cyborgs are genetically engineered so they can be given cybernetic implants without their bodies rejecting the foreign object.
  • The girls of Tokyo Mew Mew were "chosen by the earth", i.e. born as perfect matches to various endangered animals. They were then injected with the DNA of said animals and became a squad of kemonomimi Magical Girls.
  • Euphorics in Speed Grapher gain super powers based on their fetishes after being carriers to a virus that is activated by contact with Kagura's bodily fluid.
  • Guilty Crown gives us the Void Genome, a genetic weapon that allows whosoever it's been implanted in the power to draw weapons known as Voids from anyone seventeen years of age or younger. These weapons can be BFSs that can slice clean through Humongous Mecha or ribbons of light than can repair anything (including a completely decimated bridge.) Yes, it is a genetic weapon. And it winds up being implanted in an Ordinary High-School Student at the end of episode one.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED has the Coordinators, human beings whose genes have been improved prior to birth, resulting in a widespread increase in intelligence, talent, and physical aptitude. Unmodified humans are referred to as "Naturals", and there is significant tension (to put it mildly) between the two groups.
    • Interesting enough, the Naturals tried destroying Coordinators with Nukes. It worked pretty well... Just not well enough.
  • In Pokémon: The First Movie a group of scientists funded by Team Rocket attempt to engineer "the ultimate Pokémon" by splicing genes from a Mew fossil. And they succeeded.
  • In the second season of Birdy the Mighty Decode, it's revealed that there exist spawning sacs left over from the days of The Empire which produce beings called Ixiora, which seem to be based on the Human Alien Altan race. They possess extremely superior strength, durability, and, depending on the type of individual, various other incredible abilities. Whatever their original purpose was, the Federation government uses them for combat in a variety of capacities. Birdy herself is an Ixiora.
  • Despite having generally low levels of technological development, genetic engineering in the world of Naruto is surprisingly advanced, quickly jumping from eugenicist breeding programs in the past to gene splicing and tissue graft experimentation from mutant sources in the present.

    Comic Books 
  • The Shaman's Tears comic introduced Bar Sinister (who later got their own short-lived series), a group of genetically engineered, super powered human/animal hybrids.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics):
    • Knuckles the Echidna's origin has a combination of this and I Love Nuclear Power; his father, Locke, performed "biological enhancements" on himself, noting that Knuckles' was made up of more than just the genetic material of his parents. Then Locke irradiated his son's egg with Chaos Energy from the Master Emerald.
    • It ends up the entire planet of Funny Animals is the result of the alien species called the Xorda dropping a "gene bomb" on the planet, mutating it severely. Yes, the origin story for the heroes homeworld is that Earth was bombarded by genetic engineering weapons that caused fault lines to shift, seas to drain, and left the planet uninhabitable in many places for many years. Which is what you'd expect to happen if a planet got hit by several thousand multi-megaton nuclear weapons.
  • Ultimate Marvel takes this trope all the way, with genetic engineering being compared to nuclear weapons in other ways, such as international supersoldier escalation and treaties being proposed to curb it. Several Spider-Man rogues (as well as Spidey himself) were re-imagined to be the subjects of secret, illegal super soldier experiments from Oscorp, and other superheroes and villains were designed by secret government projects for the same end. Ultimate Origins reveals that this includes mutants.
    • To quote Nick Fury: "The next war will be a genetic one."
    • Mark Millar's big finale to the Ultimate Avengers took this to the logical extreme: with the team racing to stop radicalized countries like North Korea from getting their own superhumans.
  • The X-Men have always been mutants, but interestingly, the earliest issues of the X-Men comics refer to them as "children of the atom" and say that Xavier is a mutant because of radiation his parents were exposed to before he was born. Current X-Men comics have abandoned the nuclear angle in favor of pure genetics, but all mutants are the end result of genetic engineering — by godlike aliens called the Celestials tens of thousands of years ago.
    • The Celestials also created two other races by experimenting on humans: the ugly, shape-shifting Deviants, and their enemies, the Physical God Canon Sue race The Eternals, which after a bit of space-travel and civil war ended up founding a colony on Saturn's moon Titan, which eventually spawned Thanos, who conducted further genetic experiments on himself to make himself stronger. The Celestials split other alien races into Deviants and Eternals as well — the Skrulls are a race of Deviants who conquered their entire planet and built an interstellar empire, after slaughtering the mainline and Eternal offshoots.
      • The Celestial schema seems to be Order/Potential/Chaos: The Skrull Deviants are shapeshifters — their form is chaotic. The Earth Deviants have random genes and forms — their heredity is chaotic. Earth Eternals: Cosmic-powered Flying Brick variants, Skrulls: Contemplative mystics (implied — the last Skrull Eternal married the leader of the Deviants, then elevated them both to godhood). The main control group has untapped potential, though no one knows what the Skrulls' might have been, since the Deviants killed them all.
    • About the time the Celestials showed up on Marvel Earth, the Elder Gods had a similar idea and started making their own species, though these were engineered magically — Set created the Serpent Men, whilst Oshtur and Chthon created numerous good and evil races, respectively, with Chthon going out of his way to corrupt and re-engineer some of Oshtur's (or attempting to, with varying levels of success).
    • A lot of improbable origins, including many of the 'radiation is magic' type, have been retconned as Celestial experiments resulting in people who would gain powers from things that would kill most people. Before this, it was often theorized by fans that maybe these people were mutants with a 'get powers instead of cancer from radiation/toxic waste' power, or latent mutations triggered by the Freak Lab Accident; this seems to be Ascended Fanon without making everybody an X-Man. DC Comics has a "metagene" explanation that's similar. The Inhumans are a result of Kree experiments exploiting humanities' potential for superhuman abilities.
    • Silent War revolves around S.H.I.E.L.D. getting a hold of the Terrigen Mist and trying to create its own Inhumans for military use. It doesn't work out so well.
  • Similar to the above, Spider-Man's origins have moved from being bit by a radioactive spider in the original to being bit by a genetically enhanced "super spider" in Spectacular, Ultimate, and both the original movie and the reboot. The 90's Spider-Man cartoon actually went half-way, being bit by a spider that was hit by "neogenic" radiation. The mainstream comics eventually decided to hint that his powers might actually be magic, which to be fair makes more sense than radiation.
    • Spider-Man 2099, however, went fully this way — Miguel O'Hara was a geneticist who was working on ways to combine man with beast for helpful purposes, but was drugged with Rapture, who affected him on a genetic level. He attempted to cleanse himself of it with a previous version of his DNA, but a jealous co-worker sabotaged it, turning him into who we know now.
  • This is the entire point in Albedo: Erma Felna EDF, as the entire furry cast were genetic experiments created by The Creators, also known as the human race, using Earth animals as guinea pigs, and put them in somewhere in some planet in space.
  • The Batman two-parter story Infection revolves around two Super Soldiers infected by a Bio-Augmentation virus genetically engineered during the Cold War escaping from government custody and coming to Gotham. As part of their genetic traits include the ability to disperse an infectious version of the virus, meaning they risk transforming every human in the city into a mentally addled killing machine like themselves, they really fit the "nuke" part of the trope.
  • Subverted in Rogue Trooper: The Genetic Infantry are very good soldiers, and their genetic modifications give them several advantages over regular humans (not least the ability to breathe the poisonous atmosphere of Nu-Earth), but when it comes down to it they are just a very good light infantry unit. The Quartz Zone Massacre proved that the GIs were badly outmatched by regular human troops with armor, artillery and the element of surprise, and the program was quietly axed.
  • Jack Kirby was one of the early adopters of genetically engineered superhumans, with the DNA Project (later Project Cadmus) in Jimmy Olsen (and their opposite numbers at the Evil Factory), and later his creator owned superhero Silver Star, who is a member of an artificially-created posthuman species called homo geneticus.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm has, like in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a number of attempts at replicating the Super Soldier serum, resulting in:
    • The Winter Soldier (a mixture of HYDRA enhancements reactivated and stabilized by the Russian 'Infinity Formula')
    • The Russian Infinity Formula as used by Natasha (essentially a lesser variation on the Serum, but effective enough at staving off or reversing the ageing process).
    • More recently, the two variants of Extremis: the unrefined version, created by Maya Hansen, is like the MCU version, with physical enhancement, some fire powers, and a scary Healing Factor. The refined version, once HYDRA got their hands on the original, is programmable and far more stable, making for a terrifying super-weapon.
    • Additionally, the Celestials are namechecked as having manipulated humanity's genetics way back in the past, creating Eternals and Deviants, as well as many other species — including, it is suggested, Kryptonians.
  • The Pokémon fandom contains a number of stories in which humans and Pokemon have their DNA spliced, usually by scientists working for Team Rocket or other organizations with questionable ethics.
  • A major theme in The Secret Return of Alex Mack. Genetic engineering Mad Science is credited with creating many of the monsters from the B-movie crossovers, such as The Blob (1958) and Island of Terror, as well as some of the heroes such as Hanna. Many characters who could be considered The Ace turn out to be Breslynn Orphans, designed to be smarter, stronger, tougher, faster, and more attractive than regular humans.

  • Biollante from Godzilla vs. Biollante is a genetic chimaera of rose, human, and Godzilla DNA which grows to immense size, eventually fighting Godzilla. There are even conversations in the film about the potential dangers of the misuse of genetic engineering, equating them to the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.
    • Also the Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria made from G-Cells that ironically is used to stop Godzilla. Still other nations see it as a huge threat that could upset the balance of power since it could render nuclear weapons redundant despite Japan making it clear they only wanna use it on Godzilla. In fact several countries try to steal it and one agent is sent to kill the only man who knows how to make it.
  • The 2002-2007 Spider-Man Trilogy movies. The reboot franchise plays with it by having the spider be both radioactive and genetically engineered.
    Is he strong? Listen here/He's genetically engineered.
  • The Ang Lee Hulk movie. Bruce gets his power from a combination of genetic engineering, pharmaceutical drug testing, nanomachines, and radiation. It seems the scriptwriters just figured that one of those was bound to work. The new one fixed it to being genetic engineering jumped started with radiation.
    • In the 2008 movie Bruce's research was specifically to recreate the super soldier serum, playing this trope as straight as possible since the original comic origin has Bruce developing a nuclear bomb using gamma radiation for the military.
    • The trend continues into the Marvel Cinematic Universe where villains and heroes are a product of trying to recreate the original super soldier serum and it's wild success in Captain America.
  • Planet of the Apes:
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996): In the 1896 science fiction novel by H. G. Wells, Moreau transforms animals on his island into Beast Folk and gives them intelligence through a gruesome prolonged surgical vivisection process that is left deliberately vague, because the author wanted among other things to make a point against animal vivisection, common during his time, so the "how" wasn't the point of the novel. In the 1996 movie adaptation, set in 2010, Moreau uses genetic engineering to create transgenic human/animal hybrids, some of whom look almost perfectly human, while others are humanoid but covered in fur and have snouts, hooves, horns, fangs and claws; without regular injections of Moreau's serum, however, these creatures lose their intelligence and slowly regress to their animal forms.
  • In Bats, the intelligent, omnivorous, killer bats were the result of genetic experimentation by a rogue scientist. Had the movie been made 30 years earlier, it's easy to imagine they would have the product of atomic tests in the desert.
  • In what may be one the earliest examples, the 1973 Blaxploitation film Blackenstein features Dr. Stein's new techniques using DNA grafting to regrow lost limbs. His attempt to regrow lost limbs on a disabled Vietnam vet goes horribly wrong when his lab assistant sabotages the experiment, and the subject returns as a Frankenstein's Monster.
  • Tremors 7: Shrieker Island: Bill wanted to hunt Graboids and their spawn, but decided the regular ones weren't dangerous enough, so he decided to tamper with their genome to make them even deadlier.
  • Painkiller Jane: Jane's enhanced abilities turn out to be a result of genetic modification, which Erfan also gave other people (including, the ending implies, himself).

  • Done literally in the Burton & Swinburne Series. Eugenicists genetically engineered their own version of a Fantastic Nuke. They create a Destroying Angel toadstool bomb so huge and toxic that it wipes out a city and the last vestiges of civilization. This forces Burton and Swinburne on a quest to create a new timeline that prevents this.
  • The virus in the Wild Cards series.
  • The Iron Dream: While a worldwide nuclear war 1100 years in the past completely polluted Earth with radiation and turned most of mankind and the fauna into a race of mutant mongrels (and the Big Bad faction using radiation to breed their different sorts of mooks), in the end mankind is saved by intensive usage of genetic engineering, which finally even replaces normal procreation.
  • The Meliorare Society in Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series was a group of rogue genetic engineers who attempted to "improve" humanity by tinkering with the DNA of unborn children, hoping to create physical and mental superhumans. Naturally, things didn't go as planned, and after some of their more grotesque results came to light, they were outlawed and eventually hunted down. Their "experiments" were mainly destroyed or, where possible, surgically altered to remove their abnormalities. The fate of the few who are left over is a major plot point of the series, forming the origin story of Flinx as well as Mahnami.
  • In Maximum Ride, Max and her friends are all bird-human hybrids, complete with wings. The laboratory that created them specializes in animal-human hybrids. In the sister books (When the Wind Blows and The Lake House), Max is even more bird-like, even to the point of laying eggs and aging faster.
  • Parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe involve "Sith alchemy", which does whatever the writers want it to do.
    • In the Jedi Academy Trilogy, Exar Kun spent the four thousand years since his death using it to breed monsters.
    • The Thrawn Trilogy: Quick cloning. With Spaarti cylinders, humans could be safely grown in as little as a year without ysalamiri, and as little as a month with them. While they grew they received flash training, so it was possible to get an army in as little as two months. The Hand of Thrawn duology has a clone who had a bit of Thrawn mixed into his learning matrix in the hopes of making a leader with Thrawn's ability and long-range thinking. In Galaxy of Fear there is a cloning method that works in hours, but the results are too unstable to be particularly useful.
    • In the X-Wing Series, Evir Derricote created and tailored the Krytos Plague, a very nasty disease with several variants, each targeting a different related group of nonhumans. The Quarren strain spreading to Mon Calamari, the Bothan strain also devastating Wookiees, and so on. He was ordered to make it something that mutated very quickly to infect as many species as possible, but also to be sure that it didn't infect humans, and while he succeeded on both counts that high rate of mutation also meant that once it was released it became less lethal.
    • Galaxy of Fear is kicked off by a Mad Scientist trying to create a creature that would be the "ultimate weapon"; first creating six projects, many of them biological, then using them to make something with All Your Powers Combined.
  • Used in the Whitney A. Curtis novel Legacy of Cryptia, in which it turns out that genetically engineered superwarriors doubled as living batteries for the weapons that devastated Wellia with all the force of nukes.
  • The Moreau Factor (note the title) by Jack Chalker.
  • The whole point of Oryx and Crake.
  • The Shongili family in the Petaybee books.
  • Sergey Lukyanenko's Genome novel is all about how genetic engineering results in Designer Babies that are specialized and conditioned to love their "chosen" profession. This ranges from simple mental modifications (e.g. police detectives have a hightened sense of logic and love for truth and law and are unable to form emotional attachments; High Class Call Girls easily falling in love with their clients and cannot fall out of love until the client reciprocates) to physical ones (e.g. starship pilots have a well-developed cerebellum for balance and can shrug off a 30-foot fall; fighters can move in the blink of an eye and have extra arm joints; power plant specialists have radiation-proof skin and hair with the males able to "suck in" their genitals).
  • The Hunger Games have several weaponized creatures scattered around both the titular Games and the Capitol, including ferocious wasps with hallucinogenic venom and wolf "Muttations" created to resemble the tributes who died in the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games.
  • The Hollows replaced the nuclear arms race with the genetic arms race as part of the backstory, which in Turn creates the virus which wipes out a big chunk of humanity allowing the loss of the Masquerade.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • The Houses focused on medical issues on the lawless planet of Jackson's Whole occasionally dabble in this if they think there's profit to be had from it, including the creation of Sgt. Taura, a failed Super Soldier project.
    • Cetagandans are big on genetic engineering, working toward Transhumanism for their ruling caste, as well as various bioweapons.
  • In Tom Kratman's Caliphate, the virus being developed by the eponymous Caliphate for use against the rest of the world is 97% fatal, with it believed by the protagonists that the other three percent would be crippled even if they didn't die from the disease.
  • Much of the conflict in Honor Harrington was driven by the, ahem, conflicting opinions about genetic engineering and its outcomes, including the Final War on Earth, and plans of the Mesan Alignment's for the galactic domination. Weber even went to record stating that the villains's position on transhumanism and genetic engineering is actually correct, but that they are antagonists because they're dicks about it.
  • In Ancestor by Scott Sigler, biogenetics firms seeking to perfect xenotransplantation (the transplant of animal organs into humans) have shades of this. The book opens with US AMRIID (The Army's counter-biowarfare division) firebombing a firm whose research led to a fatal disease hopping the species barrier. The main plot involves chimeric hybrids in an attempt to recreate a proto-mammalian "ancestor", unleashing quarter-ton, vicious, fast, intelligent monsters on a remote island.
  • Twig hypothesizes a world in which a "great mind" (implied to be Mary Shelley) caused a massive leap forwards in biological manipulation in the early 19th century, resulting in the British Empire being even more expansive than it was in real history, but but by the beginning of the twentieth century teetering on the verge of overshooting itself with apocalyptic consequences.
  • Oleg Makushkin's Crystalline Lattice has the world split up between two warring camps: the Cyberempire and the Gaian Republic (both totalitarian states). While the former attempts to achieve perfection through cybernetic implants and computer control, the latter seeks to live in harmony with nature and modify their own bodies (although they don't eschew non-computer technology). The citizens of the Republic are split into three classes: class A are specially-bred soldiers, who aren't really considered human anymore (they are roughly a match to their enemies' cyborg soldiers); class B are unmodified natural-born humans (all men are class B, as the Gaians have not yet been able to successfully produce a genetically-engineered male); and class C represent the majority of the population, being the tube-grown genetically-engineered "super"-females. It's stated that the Gaians have developed a Synthetic Plague that can wipe out any human being outside the borders of the Republic. This is used as a counter to the Cyberempire's WMDs in a Mutually Assured Destruction sort of way, which doesn't prevent both sides from engaging in conventional warfare. The Deidran faction within the Republic wishes to engage in more radical genetic modification than currently permitted and to release the virus onto the Cybernetics. The "status quo" faction wishes to keep things the way they are, but they're afraid of the Cybernetics finding out about the Deidran plans and deciding to deal the first blow.
  • In Shannon Messenger's Keeper of the Lost Cities, the main character, Sophie Foster, was genetically engineered not only to have multiple Talents (superpowers) — she has five and is implied to have even more that are dormant whereas other elves only have one, none or two if they are a Polyglot — but also to have much more advanced versions of those Talents, such as an importable mind as a telepath and the ability to inflict positive emotion when the most powerful of Infictor is limited to negative emotions. She even has abilities her specie is not even supposed to have (such as teleportation, that is usually exclusive to Alicorns). She is also much more skilled than other elves at general skills in general, such as telekinesis but strangely she lacks a feature all other elves possess, which is perfect coordination and flexibility and is very clumsy, even by human standards. All of this was done to make her a Messianic Archetype, but she rarely uses the full extent of her powers.
  • Santa Olivia: The GMOs are people genetically enhanced with having animal DNA spliced into them, gaining superior strength and senses. Loup inherits them from Martin, her father.
  • In The Troop, it's discovered that the infections are a result of it. Basically, a scientist ended up genetically engineering two new breeds of tapeworm: one to help as a dietary aide, and the other to serve as a bioweapon. No points for guessing which breed escaped containment.

    Live Action TV 
  • New Doctor Who has a tendency to use genetics and DNA as a sort of Applied Phlebotinum, especially for the Daleks.
  • Dark Angel: The superhuman abilities of X5 supersoldiers and other Manticore transgenics are the result of mixing genetic material from various humans (generally people who were very strong, smart, or talented) and animals, with some serious tweaking, into DNA cocktails. Genetic engineering is also the explanation for their attractiveness (the ones that don't look half-man half-beast or covered in huge bumps).
  • Used in Heroes, whereby the plot-arc of a world-changing nuclear bomb from the first season has been replaced with the plot-arc of a gene-altering formula in the third season.
  • The Invisible Man: The gland that secretes quicksilver was genetically engineered. In the pilot, Darien compares it to the atom bomb.
    • This is disputed by Darien and Hobbes at the end of the second season opener "Legends", after they find and kill an invisible bigfoot. The Official denies their accusations but lets it slip that he knew about these creatures, implying that the original gland did come from a bigfoot but may have been adapted for a human. Strangely, this may imply that quicksilver madness is a natural side effect of the gland, not Arnaud's deliberate sabotage.
  • Red Dwarf: About half of the horrific creatures that the Dwarfers face are the by-products of genetic engineering experiments, who were left to fend for themselves after humanity's presumed extinction. This includes the Emotion Eater Polymorph, Master of Illusion Psirens, and the physically horrifying Pleasure GELF. The books go a little further, revealing that they eventually rebelled against humanity and were exiled to Earth, which had just become the dumping spot for the Solar System's garbage, in response.
  • In one episode of Stargate SG-1, the villain was messing around with genetic engineering. A similar experiment later turns up in Stargate Atlantis.
    • Somewhat subverted, though, as powers tend to come from characters being naturally or artificially evolved toward some post-human ideal that results in ascension. Rather than powers being some unique attribute, all characters tend to evolve in roughly the same way. Other "superpowers" are usually the result of alien technology that operates on unexplained principles or some vague appeal to quantum mechanics (which probably ties back into how near-ascended beings actually do what they do, anyway).
  • In Star Trek, The Eugenics Wars (aprx. 1993-1996) were a series of wars caused by an attempt to improve humanity through selective breeding and genetic engineering. Records of the era are patchy, so exact causes are unknown, but in 1992 genetically augmented Super Soldier Khan Noonien Singh gained control over more than half the Eastern hemisphere. The following year, over forty nations were overthrown by Augments, most of whom proceeded to enslave unaugmented humans to varying degrees. The subsequent wars nearly plunged the Earth into a second Dark Age and killed over 37 million. As such, genetics is a scientific field that the Federation is very leery about.
    • Genetic engineering was also a main cause of World War III (2026-2056), a genocidal conflict that killed 600 million, destroyed many of the planet's major cities and governments, and irradiated the atmosphere causing several nuclear winters. Recovery as a species was perhaps only possible through the help of the Vulcans, whom we made First Contact with in 2063, shortly after the official end of the war.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Founders, the ruling caste of the Dominion, utilize bio/genetic engineering to create super soldiers and personal advisors.
    • Once upon a time, a primate family hid a gravely injured Founder from pursuers. The Founder expressed its gratitude by promising that they will, one day, be transformed into a superior form and rule a vast galactic empire. The primate species is now known as the Vorta, advisers, scientists and policy makers of the Dominion.
    • The Jem'Hadar, super soldiers of the Dominion, are noted to qualify at least dozens of recommendations of the Evil Overlord List in their biological design. They wear no helmets (1, 130), wear carapaces that have no semblance to Nazi uniforms (21, 130), have superior eye sight that makes them expert marksmen (4, 56), possess exceptional strength and hand-eye coordination (236) are asexual in design (33, 43, 51, 84, 153), gain sustenance from a single source the Founders have absolute control over and require nothing else to function (127, 200, fark-9), require no sleep or rest (172, fark-9), work for the pleasure of obeying the "order of things" imprinted in their instincts (44, 48, 94, fark-9), have no fear or qualms using human wave attacks for the "order of things" (75, 234), memorize the entire manual with eidetic memory (57), and finally, can camouflage themselves to match the surroundings (237). And that's just the "design" part, not including their equally thorough training.
      • Their design, summarized by Quark, is that "the Jem'Hadar don't eat, don't sleep and don't have sex."
    • Bashir demonstrates the impact of genetic engineering on Earth had on Federation policy. By law genetically enhanced individuals like Bashir cannot serve in Star Fleet or practice medicine.
  • The conspiracy in Utopia revolves around a genetically engineered two-part Sterility Plague.

    Tabletop Gaming 
  • After the Bomb can be summarized by this trope, and this trope alone. It's a postapocalyptic setting brought about by genetic modification becoming so commonplace that everybody and their little kid could buy a kit from the store to do it, and the consequences of that coming back to bite everyone in the ass (a program to breed a better chicken accidentally produces theropod dinosaurs, for instance).
  • Palladium's other game, Splicers, takes this further, with La Résistance employing living Powered Armor and Beasts of Battle to fight a Robot War.
  • The d20 Modern remake of Gamma World abandoned I Love Nuclear Power in favor of this; the Big Blast Out was a horrific spasm of genetic engineering and nanotechnology gone haywire that annihilated civilization and unleashed all manner of ghastly abominations, including giant snake/bears that are eternally, ravenously hungry, featureless shadow-skinned humanoids, and worse.
  • While genetic engineering is mostly a low-level background affair in the BattleTech universe (sometimes offhandedly mentioned as having been used to adapt a particular plant or animal species to a new world, but even the Clans' warrior breeding program relies primarily on just old-fashioned eugenics), the recent Wars of Reaving sourcebook introduced DNA-targeted viruses capable of selectively infecting trueborn in general, particular bloodlines, and even specific individuals if desired as part of the arsenal of the renegade Clan scientist faction known as "the Society". (Of course, part of what made them effective in this case was that Society members had easy access to DNA samples of their intended targets courtesy of the scientist caste being charged with managing the breeding program just mentioned in the first place.)
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Emperor of Mankind used genetic engineering to create super soldiers to defend humanity. His first attempts, the Thunder Warriors and the Custodes, were powerful but were also physically and mentally unstable and too difficult to mass produce respectively. He managed to solve both problems when he created the Space Marines. In the Space Marines' case, the Emperor didn't specifically modify the subjects' genetics. Instead, he created special organs that could be implanted into them, essentially making them fleshy cyborgs.
    • The Old Ones took this to an extreme, creating an entire race to fight a war for them: the Orks. The Orks were for the most part a success. It's too bad the Old Ones had already taken such heavy losses when they made them — the desperation being the entire reason they were willing to create the Orks — that they died off before they could install one last feature they held off on to rush the Orks into battle: the off-switch. According to the fluff, the Old Ones seemed to have had a general passion for creating life, including humanity (though they didn't have a specific plan for us; they were just bored). They created the Eldar to balance out the physically impressive but psychically weak Orks, making them essentially the opposite so that both species would complement each other during the War in Heaven. They were only barely enough to defeat the Necrons... and then the Enslavers turned up.
    • More recent editions have mentioned "Men of Stone" and "Men of Gold", along with the better known "Men of Iron" that eventually turned on Mankind at the end of the Dark Age of Technology. According to Games Workshop veteran Alan Merrett, the former were artificial beings made of silicon, manufactured to spearhead humanity's expansion into deadly cosmic conditions. The latter were genetically engineered to be a superior offshoot of humanity, intended to rule and direct Stone, Iron, and Human. That did not go as planned.
  • GURPS: The current (4th) edition has one volume, GURPS Ultra-Tech, dedicated to mechanical and electronic SF and futuristic technology — and another volume of comparable size, GURPS Bio-Tech, dedicated to biotechnology, medicine, and genetic engineering. While, in keeping with the system's realism-based model, most of the products of genetic engineering described there are relatively low key, there are some radically advanced options, such as biological spaceships and "proteus viruses" that completely transform living things. This approach goes back to earlier editions, and the Transhuman Space setting carries it over from the main body of game material.

    Video Games 
  • The Fallout games play with this trope a fair amount. While most of the games' creatures — such as the ghouls, the numerous and varied kinds of Big Creepy-Crawlies and the two-headed cattle and deer — are explicitly descended from normal animals mutated by nuclear fallout and lingering radiation, many others are eventually descended from experiments in biotech.
    • The most common cause is the FEV, the Forced Evolutionary Virus. This was a mutagen created by the U.S. government in an attempt to create living weapons for the war against China, whose effects mostly center on increased muscle mass and aggression, as well as decreased intelligence and complete sterility. The super mutants — stupid, vicious and aggressive hulking green humanoids — are the result of humans being exposed to the FEV. Other such mutants include the super mutants' hounds, the centaurs, and the first game's Big Bad, the Master.
    • Other creatures in the games are the result of separate genetic engineering projects.
      • According to some sources, Deathclaws are the products of direct genetic engineering to create ideal soldiers, resulting in three- to four-meter tall hulks of armor, muscle, fangs and aggression.
      • According to other sources, the mole rats were created as the ultimate invasive pests to be planted in enemy territory, with their resulting high adaptability and rapid breeding rates allowing them to survive and thrive in the wasteland.
      • This applies to a number of other (significantly less widespread) creatures as well, with more canonical certainty. The cazadors — wasps the size of eagles — and the nightstalkers — coyotes with the heads and tails of rattlesnakes — were created officially as security animals, and in reality because a Mad Scientist got bored.
  • According to the Pokédex, Mewtwo was genetically engineered (from the DNA from Mew) to be the most powerful Pokémon ever. Unlike most of what the Pokédex says, this was unmistakably true, at least in Generation I. Not only was the Psychic-type a total Game-Breaker, but Mewtwo had the highest base stat total of all 150+1 mons at the time. Later generations have introduced Pokémon that surpass the Genetic Pokémon, but Mewtwo is still one tough bastard.
    • Mewtwo later takes back his title as the world's strongest Pokemon with his Mega Evolutions, which are stronger than Arceus. Of course, where the Mega stones for the man-made Mewtwo came from isn't explained.
    • In Pokémon Black and White, this trope is also the method in which Genesect was created. Its backstory is that it was revived from a fossil and fitted with a laser cannon. The project was officially scrapped by N due to what he perceived as "tampering with a perfect design", but a scientist continued the project and Genesect was the end result.
    • Attempted in Pokémon Sun and Moon with Type: Null, a Pokémon engineered from scratch by the Aether Foundation as a means of defense against Eldritch Abominations known as Ultra Beasts leaking into Alola. Three were created and were initially called "Type: Full". Unfortunately, all three Type: Fulls rejected the RKS system and went berserk. Eventually they were fitted with masks and the project was deemed a failure. Type: Full was renamed Type: Null and they were put in cryostasis. That is, until the events of the game, when Gladion, The son of The Aether Foundation President snuck out of Aether with one of the Type: Nulls, discovers its latent power and evolves it into Silvally, who is able to properly control its power and can combat the Ultra Beasts.
  • The Trigen of Far Cry.
  • The subjects of Les Enfants Terribles in Metal Gear Solid and its sequels. They use the 'genetically engineered from before birth' and 'nanomachine enhanced' versions.
  • Crusader implies that Silencers are genetically engineered living weapons, just one of many in the Cliché Storm.
  • The premise of the Geneforge series was the creation and alteration of new life-forms with magic and 'essence'. Indeed, all of the game's plots consist of one side trying to keep irresponsible people from creating life and others trying to stop the other from hoarding their power. Two of the more obvious examples are massive, fast-breeding bugs that are equally likely to eat your crops and yourself, or canisters that make spellcasting part of your DNA.
  • This is also the entire premise of GEM: Genetically Engineered Monsters.
  • BioShock: all of your plasmids and power-ups have abilities that, even with the most advanced bioengineering in the world, would be physiologically if not physically impossible. One of the worst offenders is a tonic that alters the way your research camera behaves.
  • The Zerg in Starcraft.
  • In the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, genetic engineering in the form of the Jenova Project and its side-projects is responsible for producing Sephiroth, Genesis, Angeal, the Tsviets, and most of the series' other Super Soldiers.
  • Shadow the Hedgehog from the Sonic the Hedgehog series, the Ultimate Life Form. Envisioned as a great defender of the world, and this is indeed what he ultimately becomes in spite of a setback after his creator went mad with grief over Maria's death, then amnesia, and then discovering that one of the genetic templates for his creation was an Eldritch Abomination. Shadow has gone on to destroy or take part in destroying a number of Eldritch Abominations and armies of Mecha-Mooks.
  • In Evolva, your Genohunters will change their physical appearance (change colors, develop spikes or horns) based on the DNA (acquired from your enemies) they've used to mutate themselves.
  • In Syndicate (2012), Eurocorp and Aspari use gene splicing in their Agents. One of the fruits of this is Agent Crane, who has an accelerated Healing Factor.
  • Resident Evil 6 has a literal example of this trope, with the Big Bad Carla Radames possessing airburst missiles filled with the C-Virus in gas form, which she launches on the city of Tatchi in China to cause an instant Zombie Apocalypse.
  • The "Mutation!" table of Balls of Steel is about a genetic experiment that has mutated into a deadly green Blob Monster.
  • The titular Galerians in Galerians are a group of genetically engineered superhumans designed to supplant the human race.
  • In the Guilty Gear fighting games, the titular Gears were created by extensive genetic modification of humans and animals, along with being empowered by magic, as weapons of war. Gears come in different classes which vary wildly in appearance and ability, but nearly all Gears are exceptionally resilient and difficult to kill, and they can rapidly regenerate their wounds - Dizzy, a young Command-class, was able to survive a thousand foot high drop from an airship. Sol Badguy, the Gear Super Prototype, has nonchalantly got up and completely recovered after being riddled with machine gun fire, shrugged off being impaled through the chest with a BFS that was specially designed to kill Gears, and tanked an ICBM going off in his face. Sin, a human-Gear hybrid, was once punched by Sol so hard that the tree he was tied to was uprooted and flung several hundred yards and crashed through other trees behind it, and was only slightly dazed for a bit. The more humanoid gears such as the ones mentioned also possess an affinity for magic and all the destructive power that goes along with it.
  • In Civilization: Beyond Earth, genetic engineering comes up a lot with the Harmony affinity and it's sister hybrids in Rising Tide (Harmony/Supremacy and Harmony/Purity). Pure Harmony does everything from breeding Godzilla-like tamed monsters to hybridizing their human footsoldiers with alien DNA and giving them a Healing Factor whenever they breathe otherwise poisonous spores, all with the intention of integrating humans into the alien ecosystem to prevent the Great Mistake from ever happening again. Harmony/Purity uses gene-engineering with the expressed purpose of creating the perfect human being, creating superhuman shock-troopers. Harmony/Supremacy combines radical gene-engineering with cybernetic augmentation and a "power at any cost" mentality to create a new species so far removed from humanity that they're completely unrecognisable.
  • In the Utopia DLC of Stellaris, Biological Ascension allows you to add and remove genetic traits from different populations within your empire, allowing you to optimize their traits based on their environment and what you want their role to be and giving great flexibility when it comes to expansion and production. For instance, you could make your primary species more intelligent or allow a species that evolved on a desert world to colonize a predominantly tropical world. More sinister uses include making dissident or enslaved pops more efficient at gathering certain resources or even removing their ability to feel emotion, boosting their productivity and ensuring that they'll never rebel.
  • Downplayed in Deus Ex. The Denton brothers have been cloned and genetically modified, but this is to accept nano augmentation, which is the real innovation. Same goes for Adam Jensen, whose genetic modification merely allows him to be mechanically augmented without requiring Neuropozyne to counter rejection.
  • While NESTS from The King of Fighters does engage in actual cloning, some of their "clones" are actually pre-existing humans subjected to genetic engineering experiments to turn them into superpowered living weapons, such as K', Krizalid, and possibly Kula Diamond.
  • In inFAMOUS 2, Cole uncovers Joseph Bertrand's Evil Plan: he created the Corrupted and had Vermaak 88 turned into pseudo-conduits with the intention of selling them to various foreign powers in what Cole called a "superhuman arms-race" not for the money, but so he could sow distrust of conduits in the general human populace and have them all purged in a holocaust. The trope is later given reality when Cole and Zeke fire a nuclear missile (having been bought and stored away by Bertrand as a last resort) at the Beast - the most powerful conduit to ever appear in the series - and it manages to rebuild its body within minutes.

  • Freefall generally shows Florence treated with as much suspicion as robots, the fact that she is a living thing only adds to their fears of unpredictability.
  • In The Kenny Chronicles one can guess why a bunch of pirates scientists would create the Tarnekis, though they probably didn't intend them to rebel and form a "nation" of ships on the Pacific.
  • Genetic Engineering is what allows the M9 Girls to absorb cosmic energy and gain superpowers. The procedure can really go bad, however, as the main antagonist can attest.
  • The Lycanthrope Project in El Goonish Shive.
  • Urgent Transformation Crisis uses this as the central plot element.
  • Spinnerette lampshades and double-subverts it. The title character gains her powers from a Freak Lab Accident involving a "genetic infusion chamber" used to study spider heredity. This occurs soon after the head researcher berates a reporter for suggesting such nonsense.
    Dr. Lambha: "God damn you idiots in the media! I'm doing research on spider genetics, and you infer that I'm going to cure fatness or turn people into spidermen! Do you understand nothing about science?"
    • In-universe, this is known as the "Cherenkov-Kirby Reaction". It was being studied by Dr. Universe as a clean source of power before he and his assistant Greta turned evil.
  • Comes up in Schlock Mercenary (okay, maybe not as powerful as an actual nuke, but still).
  • Chapter 2 of Mushroom Go involves a piranha plant genetically engineered to be intelligent.
  • All over the place in The Cyantian Chronicles, first the Rumuah created the immigrant Cyantians, then the Squids enslaved the Cyantians and augmented some as pit fighters, forming the first generation of Elites. Finally Exotica Genoworks has been creating new species of Cyantians ranging from skunks designed as air fresheners to psionic raccoons.
  • In Genocide Man genetic engineering became cheap enough for open-source "biohackers" to wipe out 90% of humanity with designer plagues and create genetically enhanced supersoldiers. The titular Genocide Project was started to counter them with augmented but genetically completely human "Genocide Men" and their own targeted plagues.
  • The protagonists of DNA are a group of genetically engineered furry humanoid children, known as Species X. Most of them have super powers.
  • Parodied in String Theory (2009) when a forced evolutionary virus creates "man-kitty-things" that get into everything. Schtein also keeps one as an adorable pet.

    Web Original 
  • Jobe, of the Whateley Universe, is one of the great genetic engineers of the planet, despite only being fourteen. He has a plan for taking a person and changing her into a perfect drow. He accidentally gets an injection of the serum and finds out it has Gone Horribly Right.
  • The Gate (2011) is an 8 minute sci fi/horror film about people being mutated by unregulated performance enhancing drugs bought online.
  • In Twig, the unlocking of the secrets of life by an unknown genius (heavily implied to be Mary Shelley) in the early 19th century leads to the British Empire expanding far beyond its historical height, at constant war with the rest of the world and routinely employing sterilizing plagues against its enemies.
  • Whenever Yahtzee reviews a game in his Zero Punctuation review series that involves the creation of super-soldiers, bio-engineered zombies and monstrous bio-weapons, he almost always questions how this is more efficient than regular bombs and nukes.
  • Plonqmas: The chicken Plonq purchases in “A Plonqmas Tale — 2012” appears to have been heavily engineered given that is has six legs and three breasts.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman Beyond, one of the groups of villains were the Splicers, who spliced animal DNA into their own. Generally lizard or snake.
    • However most of them rarely use them for fighting, just purely cosmetic. To them it is pretty much getting a tattoo in today's time. Just as tattooing can have unwanted side effects note , even with clean equipment, so splicing can have negative effects as well.note 
    • Justice League Unlimited ultimately revealed that Terry McGinnis himself is the result of this: Amanda Waller realized there should always be a Batman and sought to create one, stealing some DNA from Bruce Wayne, genetically altering Terry's future father so that he was now Bruce Wayne DNA-wise and, when Terry was old enough, get his parents killed. However, the would-be-assassin, Andrea Beaumont, the Phantasm, just couldn't go through creating another Bruce and called out Waller over it. Ultimately, Derek Powers would finish the job, unwittingly.
  • Came up a few times in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers. On the lighter side was a Noodle Incident with mutated, flying plants that smelled horribly when decomposing. "Marshmallow Trees" had the titular trees (genetically engineered crops) growing out of control and threatening to destroy a colony world. The darkest example is the Supertrooper Project.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man uses this as the Phlebotinum du Jour, not only with Spider-Man's genetically-altered spider-bite, but with Electro's powers, granted partly by being electrocuted. The Lizard too, is a result of Curt Connors dosing himself with an electrically catalyzed formula containing genetically-modified lizard DNA. The big one, though, is many of Spidey's enemies — Rhino, Sandman, Kraven etc.- are the result of OsCorp experiments designed to create superhumans, some of whom were pitted against Spidey for the sole purpose of distracting him so that he is too busy dealing with them to worry about The Man Behind the Man Tombstone and all the crime he is behind (other villains are tech based). The Green Goblin, likewise, got his powers from an experimental superhuman serum. The series was Screwed by the Network, but had it continued it would have adapted The Clone Saga which would have continued using this trope as a theme, with Mad Scientist Miles Warren already working on such stuff by the end of the second season.
  • The 90s animated Spider-Man series uses a weird mixture of this trope and its predecessor. Several of the heroes & villains in that series got their powers from the "Neogenic Recombinator", a device that used a controlled beam of radiation to rewrite a subject's genetic code, and "neogenics" was a new science that was being investigated by many parties.
    • Almost invoked the trope by name when Landon claimed that metal was the way of the past, the material for the future being human flesh.
  • Several of the monsters Godzilla, Jr. fights in Godzilla: The Series are the result of genetic-altering, such as the DNA Mimic and the D.R.A.G.M.A.s.
  • During his Freak Lab Accident, Danny Phantom had his genetic makeup modified with ectoplasm, thus making him half-ghost.
  • Gargoyles has Anton Sevarius, a geneticist working for Xanatos (or whoever else is paying him at the moment), creating a genetics-altering compound that mutates Derek Maza and three other humans into Gargoyle-equivalents. The compound combines bat, big cat, and electric eel DNA, among others.

    Real Life 
  • While the summary of the topic is almost universally true (at least in human experience) there have been very recent success with gene therapy - a process where an engineered virus is used to inject DNA into a particular tissue to modify the function of that tissue in some slight, but predictable fashion. Gene therapy has been a "holy grail" of sorts in the medical/genetics world for the last couple of decades with little-to-no success to show for the time and effort. However, very recently there has been success in a specific instance, where the process has shown some success at reversing the effects of macular degeneration, a disease - usually in the elderly - that causes blindness. DNA is injected directly into the affected eye tissue with sequences that are designed to counter the effects of the degeneration, which is known to have some genetic components. The tissue accepts the new DNA and starts generating appropriate proteins to counter the degeneration. This is a well-known, well studied disease, with a very specific application of this treatment, but the literature has shown measurable, medically significant effect. It's not exactly super-powers, but is capable of modifying, however slightly, a very specific body tissue, in a very specific way, WITH SCIENCE!!
    • A more general (that is, not focused on a single body part) application is the production of insulin from bacteria. We used to use pig or cow insulin, but they don't work quite as well for people, it's easier to retrieve from bacteria, and there is a chance of an allergic reaction to residual bits of pig or cow.
  • Technically, a genetically engineered super power could be more probable than a random mutation by radiation. With radiation, even if you do somehow get a beneficial mutation (and this is incredibly improbable, mind you), you'll still get radiation poisoning and die. GE is at least purposefully done with an aim in mind, instead of just randomly damaging bits of the genome in the event of radiation exposure.
  • Genetic engineering, when applied to animals, usually doesn't lead to superpowers. It may result in mice that are blind, abnormally smart or always very hungry. Or cats with coats that glow under black lights. Many of these effects are incredibly useful in the sciences, since they can be used to study other things such as psychology or neurology. However, there are some cases of genuinely "super" animals like the PEPCK-Cmus mice, which can run for five hours without stopping, are ten times as active as normal mice, live three times longer, and remain fertile up to an older age. On the downside... due to their high metabolism, they need to eat twice as much, are highly aggressive and might also be extra-vulnerable to cancer. The same gene occurs in humans, but scientists are reluctant to try the modification on humans, for obvious reasons.
  • Although genetic engineering has an overall stigma of "playing God", to the point where some countries even have laws against technological applications that aren't even remotely feasible yet, proponents point out that competent genetic engineering could end disorders like Lou Gherig's disease, Down Syndrome, Neruofibromatosis, and a slew of other genetic conditions. To quote a Cracked article on the subject:
    Genetic engineering will eliminate some of the most horrific things that can happen to anyone, ever, and make everyone better at everything as a mere side effect. Anyone campaigning against genetic engineering is saying, "I was lucky enough not to get cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs, or any one of a hundred other unthinkable horrors, and that's 100 percent of the humans I care about! Yay!"
  • Many works playing this trope straight blame genetic disasters on big corporations. One under-appreciated nightmare scenario is not that big corporations will make mistakes, but that genetic technology will become common enough and cheap enough that individuals will acquire it and play the genetic hacker.
    • Aaaand there are now basic gene-editing kits available for purchase [1]
  • Technically, we've been genetically engineering plants and animals to our specifications for millennia. Most of our staple crops would be all but worthless in their natural state.
  • The eugenics movement tried to do this, utilizing selective breeding to make "fitter" people on the positive side, plus sterilization and eventually extermination (in Nazi Germany at least) for people deemed unfit. Due to the poor state of knowledge regarding genetics then, a lot of it was based on grossly ignorant theories which have since been debunked, and mostly simply rationalized existing prejudice. It turns out that many of the disorders targeted for elimination were not, at least in all cases, hereditary, so they would be likely to turn up again in the future. Further of course are the massive ethical problems with this. After seeing how the Nazi Party used this, eugenics has been largely abandoned (it had been criticized before, but this clinched its downfall).

Alternative Title(s): Genetic Engineering Gives Superpowers