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I'm planning on writing a story in a post-apocalyptic world where normal humans are hunted by genetically modified predators, both human and otherwise. However, I first actually need to create this post-apocalyptic world, and I'd like it, if possible, to be the result of genetic engineering somehow.

Some details on the pre-apocalyptic genetic engineering scenario:

  • GE is still fairly expensive and the domain of the rich - however, some unethical biotech companies offer black market/underground solutions
  • For the most part, modifications are used for minor physical attributes - higher cheekbones, better hair, better skin, eye color etc.
  • The military has been playing around with animal genes, using it to enhance strength, speed, healing properties, senses etc. in soldiers. However, it's all experimental and in most cases has resulted in adverse effects
  • Some of these adverse effects include susceptibility to diseases, partial loss of mental faculties and development of contagious, viral illness
  • Animals are occasionally modified too - guard/military dogs for example are made stronger, more intelligent, better sense of smell and hearing etc.
  • Some preliminary modification work has been done on cephalopods in order to use them to do underwater deep-sea exploration

Given this scenario, is there a way that rampant genetic engineering could lead to a mass cataclysm scenario, i.e. at least 75% of Earth's population dying (further deaths from the resulting chaos will be there too obviously)?

FINAL EDIT: Will try and be even more specific. I'm looking to add a tragic angle to how this apocalypse comes about. An inadvertent/unwilling twist to end the world. One idea would be that an esteemed geneticist's wife/child/significant other is dying from an incurable disease and the only way to fix him/her is through genetic engineering. Maybe some kind of animal genes are inserted to counteract/fix the damage but a random mutation occurs, turning into an airborne contagion. This is the angle I want to run with and am wondering how plausible it is.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, yes. See scifi disease and monster apocalypse stories passim ad nauseam. There are far too many to enumerate, and they don't encompass all the possible ways to Ruin Everything, making this question entirely too broad. Perhaps you should pick something specific, and then ask a reality check question? $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2019 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ I'm with StarfishPrime on this one; there's a great question here, it's just too broad right now. $\endgroup$
    – cegfault
    Nov 4, 2019 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime added some detail, hopefully makes it easier to answer $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2019 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ It's not that we can't answer the question, it's that there are too many viable answers within the current constraints. If you're looking for a yes/no answer, then the answer is defined by your story. Anything more than that is the story itself. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Nov 4, 2019 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ Added some further edits to make the "cause" more specific. Hopefully this does the trick! $\endgroup$ Nov 4, 2019 at 19:05

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"Daughterless male release" is a very real, very plausible use of genetic engineering to try to control the spread of invasive species - most of the google results seem to relate to carp and other pest fish, but I'm sure I originally heard about it in relation to the cane toad in Australia. Basically you genetically engineer a sample of a species which is completely fit and healthy (indeed as fit and healthy as you can make it), and whose offspring are similarly fit and healthy... and universally male. Release these specimens into the wild population, let them compete for females with the 'natural' males, and you very quickly produce a massive skew in the sex distribution, a collapse in the female population, and eventually a collapse in the population as a whole.

Thinking about how this could translate to humans, unfortunately the creation of a stronger, fitter, more handsome, more intelligent, exclusively male caste of humans is exactly the sort of objective that might be set for a project to create a 'super soldier'. The widespread deployment of these soldiers in conflict areas would ensure the dispersal of the genes (through brothels and war crimes) across the world as well as in the soldiers' home countries. In a world that is already wracked by other serious-but-not-existential pressures (widespread war, famine, other natural disasters, etc), the contagion could easily slip 'under the radar' long enough to become reasonably widespread, and would then grow exponentially to the point of threatening the bulk of the population.

Unlike cane toads, humans have the intelligence to recognise strange deviations in what are supposed to be largely random events, and would probably identify the danger just when it had passed the point of plausible containment. Given that you've said genetic engineering is the preserve of the rich, it's questionable what the bulk of society could actually do against a large 'infected' subset of the population: most likely ostracise them similarly to our treatment of HIV. In such a society having a sister (or daughter) is probably the best evidence (albeit easily faked) of being 'clean', which would make for an interesting dynamic.

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It's not that far fetched. Just take a lethal flu virus, mix it with something like Ebola (you know, just in case your enemy hits and you want to retaliate) then accidentally (or not) release it in a hub of the western world and you can be fairly sure that most of humanity will be wiped out. Only those living in remote areas will be spared.

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In general, predators require a large amount of energy intake and frequently have a big "range" that they traverse in the hunt for food. For a sudden boom in man-eating predators, there would need to be a big boost to the global food food supply (that initially isn't humans). I'd consider a two-part apocalypse:

Stage 1

The famous company "XYZtech" develops a new, bio-engineered pet. It's the perfect combination of cute, camera-friendly, easy to take care of, and easy to sell. The "fuzzball" looks like a rabbit or a gerbil or something, and can safely hibernate if it's not fed (among some other bio-engineered features). XYZtech partners with online shopping mecca "Jungle" and they figure out that they can safely and "humanely" breed vast amounts of the new pets and send them off to customers with two-day shipping.

Like a wildfire, the new fad of owning a fuzzball sweeps the nation. Just like the newest phone, you're not fashionable if you don't have one. Posting a photo of yourself on social media and you don't have your fuzzball perched on your shoulder? Shame, you're getting unfollowed. Soon, every other person owns a fuzzball.

Unfortunately, there's a problem with the new fuzzballs. They breed with an insane speed and have no natural predators. Even humans can't bring themselves to kill them; the fuzzballs have been engineered for maximum cuteness. Soon, it becomes an epidemic. Escaped fuzzballs are destroying agriculture, raiding human food stores, and causing problems in general.

With unexpected speed, the fuzzballs become a global crisis, but what do you do about them? Call in the military? Sure, a rifle round will kill one but there's thousands and they're good at hiding. Call the exterminator? Won't work. To maximize customer satisfaction, the fuzzballs were engineered to resist poisons and are able to eat basically anything (this was to prevent careless owners from accidentally killing or starving their pet).

Stage 2

XYZtech or the government has the genius solution: The only way to exterminate a bio-engineered pestilence is to engineer fuzzball-hunter creatures. Varieties of animals are developed to seek and destroy fuzzballs. Alas, everyone's under extreme pressure for a solution now. Ethics and safety protocols are thrown out and rampant experimentation proceeds to genetically optimized fuzzball hunters. Through accident or on purpose, these elite hunter creatures are released into the world and begin hunting down fuzzballs with a passion.

As a feature, the designers allowed these creatures to procreate, and the abundance of food (fuzzballs and the occasional classical pet) cause a population boom. The rest is history; with highly-carnivorous creatures hunting for flesh. Maybe you could even throw in that some scientist succeeds in building a bio-engineered virus that kills fuzzballs only but it's released too late, predators are already on the loose.

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A mutated retrovirus that makes us unable to break down starch or fructose. Or process common amino acids. Mass starvation ensues.

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