During a nuclear total war between to superpowers, a military unit deserted and formed the gang which they called "Cobras".

There is a gang of malcontents and misfit mauraders who collectively call themselves the Cobras. 500 years later, they are still around as a gang of malcontents and misfit marauder, and still named Cobras.

During that nuclear total war, they found a genetic engineering lab used it to make superior warriors for the apocalypse. What genetic modifications would be most beneficial to this?

The World is hostile to most people. There are rabid wild animals that often hunt people down. Small towns and settlements are the only places that are really safe, and if a trader leaves a bill unarmed, he will almost surely be robbed and killed. Clean water and food is scarce. The Lab was found when the gang was just started, and the gang members 500 year later are the result of that genetic engineering. Yes, they had genetic engineering but didn’t try to rebuild society?

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    $\begingroup$ If these marauders have the advanced knowledge and skills to successfully run a genetic engineering lab after 500 years of living in an apocalyptic scenario, I'd be surprised that they haven't used their evidently vast knowledge base to, you know, rebuild society. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2018 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang is correct, which is why I asked this question. But, I must vote to close your question as unclear what you're asking. I'll happily retract my vote if the issue is cleared. You've explained nothing about the nature of your world and that means we can't possibly give you sensible answers. Is there still a nuclear winter? Have other people mutated? Were food crops affected? What are the limits ( there will be many) that will guide our answers? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 22, 2018 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ First thing I would want is resistance to tooth decay. If you've ever spent a night with a throbbing toothache, you'll know how everything else pales in importance. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Mar 22, 2018 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ So, finding the lab is backstory to justify the genetically modified gang 500 years later? How long did they run the lab? Did they have geneticists in their gang? Do you expect them to have 500 years worth of foresight, or are genetic "bad guesses" part of your question? Please edit your question to make clarifications. Hunting through comments for clarifications is painful. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 22, 2018 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ traditional pillaging includes enough gene transfer that any genetic advantages would be expected to spread to the general population over the long run. $\endgroup$
    – user25818
    Mar 22, 2018 at 20:12

5 Answers 5


Split Brain Sleeping Dolphins and many antelope spend a third of their time with one half of their brain asleep, a third of their time with the other half of their brain asleep, and a third of their time with all of their brain awake. So, they always have some of their brain awake and ready to deal with the situation around them and are never completely vulnerable as ordinary people are with both halves of their brain asleep. But, they don't suffer from the down sides of prolonged sleep deprivation. In an environment where threats are omnipresent, this would be a valuable adaptation.

Alpha-Beta Pack Instincts A strong instinctual bond of wolf-like loyalty/submission to an alpha leader would make it possible for another otherwise wild and unruly band to function effectively as a coordinated team. An endogamy instinct might also be valuable so that the gang's advantages could be kept within the gang.

Hibernation Weather and conditions in this world may create conditions where it is necessary to hide in some low resource shelter (e.g. a barren cave or abandoned refrigerator) for a prolonged period of time, like a bear, until conditions become favorable again. Perhaps there are weeks or months long blizzards or sand storms, for example, that may have heightened toxicity. An ability to hibernate with very low need for food or warmth for a prolonged period until conditions become favorable again could have adaptive value.

Radiation Sensitive Vision Long after most places affected by nuclear waste are cleaned up, lethal hot spots can remain. An ability to see radioactive hot spots the way that snakes can see heat would allow the group to avoid those invisible deadly perils.

Fear Inducing Pheromones An ability to win a physical fight is all good and well, but it still takes lots of resources. If you could secrete pheromones that cause other humans that sniff them to fear you and submit without a fight, you win without damaging scarce goods that your prey may have collected and without expending the resources necessary for an actual fight. These pheromones could also discourage people with taking advantage of a group member during hibernation.

A Single Unique And Otherwise Incompatible Blood Type Limited to crude methods of blood transfusions to treat trauma resulting in blood losses from injuries or surgery, it would be helpful if everyone in the group had a single compatible blood type, so a simple person to person tube form of blood transfusion could be accomplished. If this blood type was incompatible for non-group members, this could also discourage others from draining their blood to provide transfusions for their people and could provide a genetically based means of enforcing endogamy.

Lengthy Breast Feeding Harsh environments favor spreading out children over many years, so long as they are alive, and limit the capacity of parents to pre-process or especially purify food for young children. Lengthy periods of breast feeding would provide a disease free/immune enhancing boost to young children in a hostile and toxic environment and would cause children to be spaced far apart so long as the children are still living. Lengthy breast feeding would also discourage young children from staying off on their own with food supplies that they could pilfer and take with them, exposing them to threats that they can't handle. The children of group members might breast feed for six or seven years, for example. This also has the incidental side effect for literary purposes (because sex sells) of causing all of the adult women in the group to be very well endowed and to wear garments allowing for easy access for breast feeding purposes.

Tough Skin Given that clothing and armor may be subpar, a thick, tough hide for group members might have selective fitness enhancing value. Even hoof-like soles of their feet, or just really tough food pads on the soles of their feet, might be helpful in lieu of good shoes.

High Frequency Hearing Capability An ability to secretly communicate via dog whistle without being audible to ordinary people would be useful to coordinate raids.

Severe Old Age Induced Mortality If group members have reasonably ordinary aging until say, age 55-60, and then suddenly die of a wide range of old age related system collapses (the way people today do in their 80s or 90s), the group will not need to support as many elderly members increasing its tooth to tail ratio, and in this environment, average physical vitality for members would probably be more important than the preservation of knowledge by gradually more infirm elders. Also, in a high radiation/high toxicity environment, cancer risk would be much greater, dramatically reducing the prospects of a healthy old age anyway, for people genetically prone to longevity, so the community level fitness cost of losing elders to "natural causes" in old age wouldn't be as great anyway, since unnatural causes would usually kill them anyway fairly early in their old age.

Psychological Resilience Some people are easily traumatized (but may be especially empathetic), other people can endure trauma with little long term psychological damage. Known genetic markers distinguish them. In a trauma filled world, having psychological resilience genes would be valuable.

  • $\begingroup$ Regeneration? Because that could potentially increase their life span and remove the "weak elders", since they would stay fit for longer too. $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2018 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ @NuloenTheSeeker Possibly. Regeneration is a very tricky thing to manage despite being one of the first targets of bio-modification. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 24, 2018 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ Possible increased chance of cancer, increased calorie consumption, being able to house diseases that would otherwise kill someone, effectively making their blood and body a biohazadr to others? I don't think a gang of raiding sh*tbags, who did not manage to make progress in 500 years would mind. ALSO I think some natural weapons would be something they would appreciate, since they probably still use trash for weapons. $\endgroup$ Mar 24, 2018 at 22:27

Radiation Tolerance - It is the nuclear apocalypse after all. It's no good to have a genetically modified race if they all go sterile after a generation from constant background radiation.

Night Vision - Have excellent night vision would give you a serious leg up in a world without other night vision devices or electric lights. Being able to sneak up on your enemy or see them coming in the dark is a huge advantage. Also they would have no need for night watch fires or other lights which would prevent them for lighting a beacon for other marauding groups to see from miles away.

Slow Metabolism - Food is scarce. Not needing as much to survive would be very important. However, this could have other detrimental effects on performance in combat. You'd have to do some more research on that.

I'm sure others will have some good ideas as well but that's what comes to mind right away.


Improved Immune System Response- In history disease and infection has caused far far more casualties than combat. In a world where advanced medical supplies are hard to come by any force that could cut losses to disease and infection by even as much as half would have a huge strategic leg up on competition.

More Efficient Digestion- Coupled with the improved immune system your super-soldiers can eat food that would sicken others providing more flexibility in logistics. They can spend less time looking for something to eat and more time fighting. Add in the ability to digest plant matter and if all else fails your soldiers could subsist off of grass and leaves in a pinch.

Improved Endurance Transportation is hard to come by in the post-apocalypse, soldiers do a lot of walking. problem is, if you are having to march to contact your pace is limited because your men need to be able to fight once they arrive. A regular human in average shape can effectively march 20 miles a day while carrying 30% of their body weight. A very well conditioned soldier can do so with more weight, or go farther with less weight (In the Marines I once marched 40 miles in 12 hours under a 160 pound load but I couldn't walk for 3 days afterwards without limping and wouldn't have been able to fight at all afterwards.) Your super soldiers have been improved and can march 40 miles in 12 hours under a full body load AND be able to fight when they get there.

Lower Panic Response- In combat there are mental states we referred to in the Marines by "Coopers Color Code." Green is at rest, yellow is alert, orange is preparing to engage in imminent combat, red is engaged in combat, and black is a total mental break-down (fetal position, rocking back and forth and weeping). Its pretty difficult to predict which soldiers are going to be capable of mentally dealing with the shock of combat, and a sizable and expensive portion of modern infantry training is stress inoculation and mental conditioning. Only about 1 in 10 regular people are capable of entering into combat without suffering a panic response that prevents them from being useful without months of training and indoctrination, after a year of training and indoctrination today even then 10% of people will be totally useless in combat, and you cannot guess which ones until you expose them to combat. Not your super-cobras. Every single one are that 1 in 10 who is totally mentally okay with combat without any sort of prior psychological conditioning.

Altered Circadian Rhythm- When a person has been sleep deprived they exhibit impaired decision making and reflexive responses on par with somebody who is legally drunk. Your Super-Cobras can stay awake and active up to 48 hours before becoming impaired, and can recover their regular abilities with only a few hours of sleep. They can now spend more time accomplishing important tasks (Like stomping on farmers heads and stealing anything not nailed down and burning everything that is) instead of sleeping. Coupled with the enhanced durability in a pinch they can march under a full load up to 2 days straight with small rest periods (at the expense of some combat ability mind you). Really REALLY need to cut off an enemy retreat, or get out of enemy striking range, or take a ton of unguarded territory really fast? Super-Cobras can march under full load without sleep for 48 hours and cover up to 160 miles under ideal conditions. Literally no other military group can possibly keep up with their ability to cover ground so fast and achieve objectives so tirelessy.


Regulable Metabolism (Thermoregulation)

You never know when you will find some food. Warm-blood animals has a higher metabolic rate, they are faster, stroger and more actives, but they consume more calories. Instead, a cold-blood animal has a very low metabolic rate, consuming much less calories, but at the same time being too slow and inactives, they won't be able to fight.
But, you could have an advances metabolism able to regulate itself. During low-food or idle time it decreases the metabolism (e.g: reduce inner heat from 42ºC to 10Cº saving 30% energy, NASA said that a reduction of 10ºF in human temperature could reduce human metabolism around 50% - 70%), and during high-food or active (hunting, fighting) time it increase the metabolism.
That is a more extreme version of bradymetabolism, I am talking about a creature able to switch from:

  • From Endothermy (generate it own heat) to Ectothermy (get heat from enviroment).
    • Drawback: Ectotherms creatures must get heat from sun light, that means that in an Nuclear Winter it may be difficult to use, or at least they may need other heat source, like a geiser or something like that.
  • From Homeothermy (regulate it own temperature) to Poikilothermy (don't regulate, survive at several different temperatures). Also know as Heterothermy (homeothermy at day and poikilothermy at night).
    • Drawback:
      • Poikilotherm creatures has several "sets" of enzymes in they body, each set especialized to an especific range of temperatures (instead of just one). That means that their bodies are less efficient because they have "redundancy" on enzymes, each one isn't especialized in an X temperature, they are especialized to a range X - Y of temperatures.
      • This evolution is really unlikely to evolve from humans without some handwavium, because this need a complete rework from all our systems (you have to reconfigure all the production of enzymes).
  • Addition: Like a bonus, your humans could have some rete mirabile in their bodies. That is a complex of blood vessels with a lot of different function, but in this case they could be used with countercurrent heat exchange in order to focus the body heat to the chest (the most important part) instead of the whole body. (It transfer the heat from arteries from the heart, to the cold veins from the limbs to the heart).


During time of food shortage your "creatures" (if we add all this modifications they will not be humans anymore) will need a good way to save calories.
This can be done with Torpor or Dormancy (Also know as Hibernation on winter, Aestivation on summer/desert) or Brumation on reptile hibernation).
Normally, people think about hibernation (Torpor) as an ability to reduce the metabolism during days or weeks, maybe more, but not less. That is the wrong idea, torpor can be used even for just a few hours, like while you are sleeping! With torpor they could induce an slow metabolic rate to consume less calories, and if you know about the shortage even before it, you could increase the amount of fat on your body, and then reduce your metabolic rate in order to conserve that fat for more time.

  • Drawback: It's also quite difficult to explain, but not so much.
  • Also, an extreme version of this could be Cryptobiosis, instead of reduce metabolist rate, it stop metabolism. Literally, the creature stop (like put pause on a movie), and when the enviroment is fine (e.g: normal temperature, water or oxygen conditions) it reactivate itself by some chemical reaction. This could also be used to survive really, but really extreme conditions (vaccum, freeze, boil), or at least tardigrades can.


This is basically the opossite to the ideas above. Here, you never know when you will be attacked, so you have a high metabolic rate even while sleeping (note that this rate is still many times lower than awake, but no so much as in normal animals). By that way, even sleeping, you can wake up quickly and start running or doing something almost instantly, at the expense of a lot of calories.

Split Brain Sleep Times

Like dolphin, your creatures must be able to split the day in three phases: full mode, during this time the brain work normally at full power, half mode, during this time only the half of the brain works, the other half is sleppend, and another half mode, where the sleeped part is awake, and the awake is now sleeping. With this ability, your creatures can always be on alert.

Biphasic or Polyphasic Sleep

Sleeping 8 consecutive hours during night can be dangerous... someone could atack you. Your creatures could split their sleeping time to several smaller sleeping hours.

Radiation Protection

In a nuclear fallout scenario it can be a problem the radiation.

  • Having a denser skin (fat?) could be used to absorb incoming radiation and focus on a less vital place (skin instead of inner organs). Their skin could be adapted to suppress damaged cells quickly.
    • This will be extremelly useful to resist alpha... the less dangerous radiation... if it isn't inyected, ingested, or inhaled (otherwise it's the one of the worst).
  • Extreme advanced DNA repair: For example, tardigrades -an ugly microorganism but extremelly difficult to kill**- is able to survive 1.000 times more radiation than normal animals. A human can survive around 5 - 10 Gy radiation, while them can survive around 5.000 - 6.200 Gy. One of the reasons to be able to do that is their advanced DNA repair system that their cells have.

Night Vision

The ability to see in darkness has obvious advantages, and this can be adquire having tapetum lucidum on the eyes (increase light avariable on photoreceptors, cat use it to get 44% more light). Another advantage of the tapetum lucidum is the eyeshine of some animals. Furthermore, having ultraviolet sensitivity can improve the night vision, foraging, prey identification, and frugivory (fruits and berries reflect UV light better).

UV Protection and Protective Layer (harder skin)

If the world has a very damaged ozone layer it could be useful been able to protect from UV rays. The skin of that creatures could have Beta-Carboline in their exoesquelet layer of keratin like Scorpions, in this articule (Warning: Spanish) it speak of some hypothesis why they have that sustance in order to be fluorecent, they think it may be an UV protection of some daylight scorpion ancestors (because it absorbs UV ray and produces cyan light).

  • Drawback: This reflective layer is like a kind of exoesquelet, it can be useful for defensive purpouses, but it will reduce mobility.

Efficient Digestive System

As we learned the fire and how to cook meat, our digestive system has specialized in order to eat cooked meat and their size as been reduced because cooked meat is more efficient kcal/kg so we don't need a so long intestine (that consume also innecesary calories which now are used to feed the bigger brain) [citation needed] (I can't find that article). But, when the food is low, you need the most efficient digestive system.

Advanced Inmunity System

In an apocalyptic world medicine is something very rare, and a simple wound could become in an infection -> amputation of limb -> futher infection -> death. If our imnunity system were stronger it would reduce the chance of infection, also it will cure diseases like cold faster, increasing chances of survival.
I will quote something about the Thymus, who produce immunity cells:

The thymus is largest and most active during the neonatal and pre-adolescent periods. By the early teens, the thymus begins to atrophy and thymic stroma is mostly replaced by adipose (fat) tissue. Nevertheless, residual T lymphopoiesis continues throughout adult life.

But... what if that T lymphopoiesis (immunity cells) die from a disease like HIV? If they Thymus never stop producing cells (or at least it stop but it's able to re-activate later) that creatures would be able to defend themselves from disease that immunodeficiency.


You have opened Pandora's box here. If I wanted to selectively modify my offspring to survive in this environment the range of biological adaptations would result in an apocalypse for the normal population. Here are some suggestions some of these overlap earlier answers.

1. Body modifications to give high endurance

Separation of the breathing eating and drinking pathways. It means I can eat and drink on the run and improve efficiency of the lungs. Select for improved cardiovascular performance

2. Sense of smell.

Give them dog++ sense of smell. You can't ambush these people they will sniff you out from miles away and they will hunt you down like, well dogs. They can also sniff out high radioactivity.

3 Sight.

The mammalian eye is pretty good in its best manifestations. But it does not begin to match the octopus eye. In the mammalian eye light has to pass through the nerve layer before it gets to the light sensors. Octopus eyes are the other way up giving much higher acuity and sensitivity. If they can see you from 20 miles off, you are pretty much dead.

4. Hearing

Again dog+ sensitivity of hearing.

5. Suspension of normal social norms.

This is beginning to sound like the zombie apocalypse but they will regard all male normal humans as food. unlike the zombies you are dealing with an enemy that is intelligent has better senses than you and is agile.

Worst of all the normal female population are "breeders".

Without going into too much detail here impregnation of a normal human female by one of the modified males results in an intense hormone driven protection of the pregnancy. The result of the pregnancy has all of the attributes of the modified human.

This is why genetic engineering needs to be controlled


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