Project Sampson was designed to create super-soldiers. CRISPR was used to release the limiters on muscles, allowing soldiers to access incredible strength.

Of course, initial testing went poorly. Potential super-soliders threw out their backs, over-strained their bodies, and inflicted many other serious injuries on themselves. As people became more cautious with how to use their strength, and the project leads used gorilla DNA* to improve their bodies ability to handle the strength, things improved.

Once an individual had gotten used to their strength, and their body had adapted to outputting on that level without dying, I imagine these super soldiers would be able to pick up and toss a car rather casually.

Could this work? Could limiters be released on the body this easily? Are there any other downsides to this I haven't considered?

*due to the differences in development this would require, this genetic change was made before birth, as opposed to the other one which would be done on adult humans less likely to accidentally kill themselves.

  • $\begingroup$ Usually you wait up to 24 hours to accept an answer, so people around the world have a chance to respond. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus. I was not aware of that. I will keep that in mind if I choose to ask another question in the future. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ I think you might want to design super-soldiers to go the opposite way, not more strength at the cost of endurance, but more endurance and mental alertness at the cost of strength. It's easier to design exosuits to do heavy lifting than to design soldiers. Keeping soldiers alert and active for extreme periods suits the needs of modern warfare much better. A sniper who can stay alert without sleep for days or a tank driver not making mistakes due to fatigue is a lot more useful, but underappreciated. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 18:50
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    $\begingroup$ I could be wrong here but I don't believe that Gorilla's can pick up and throw cars other than hotwheels/matchbox cars. Thus, I doubt Hurilla's (Human + Gorilla) could do it either. $\endgroup$
    – KingAndrew
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ Why has the OP assumed that being stronger makes you a better soldier? Bigger and stronger makes you a bigger target. The best traits for anything military is cheap, plentiful and disposable. The six million dollar man could step on a mine in the first two minutes just as easily as the sixteen year old boy with six weeks basic training. $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Commented Jan 17 at 4:00

9 Answers 9


No... because there are no limiters on human strength, at least not enough that removing them would produce super-soldiers. Top athletes and highly trained soldiers would have been trained to ignore the barriers of pain that ordinary people would not normally cross, so that's about the greatest effect that might be achieved - on an ordinary person, and even then, it would be a bit disappointing, as without training, even maximal exertion would be less than that of a trained person.

The problem here is the apocryphal stories of hysterical strength, with people lifting cars and tractors in order to rescue a loved one, but on further examination, they aren't lifting the full weight, but taking advantage of leverage, sprung suspensions or tyre inflation to move a heavy object far enough to extract a trapped person... but that person wasn't pinned by the vehicle's full weight either.

As for genetically engineering an adult human... that isn't going to work either. Gorillas achieve their strength through both greater muscle mass and greater leverage, at the cost of being able to flex their limbs more slowly than a human. It may be possible to engineer in a gene to increase muscle mass, but it isn't going to get you super-soldiers, just body builders. As for moving bone-muscle attachment points... that isn't going to happen, and if it could, the military wouldn't want it, as it would make the subject slower.

If you did manage to splice in gorilla genes to increase muscle mass, it would likely end in disaster, as the subject's immune system started attacking the unfamiliar muscles with gorilla genetic markers on their surfaces.

Finally, genetic changes would be made with a virus, not a bacterium.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you provide a citation for that? I realize it may not be true, but the concept that our muscles only output at a maximum of 20% normally (and that outputting at 100% would cause serious damage very quickly) is quite prevalent. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ Also, this would be a project going over a long time, and the gorilla part would likely be done before birth. I will edit the question to make that part more clear. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ As I said, this myth is based on apocryphal stories of hysterical strength. As a university-level student of human physiology, I have learned that it is possible to measure the maximum strength of a muscle by various means, both in-vivo with electrical stimulation, and in-vitro with neurotransmitter infusions, and having personally been the subject of in-vivo experiments, I can attest that my strength under electrical stimulation is not significantly greater than my voluntary strength. In case you wondered about adrenaline, it does not have any effect upon muscles in-vitro. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ The other problem with embryonic gene therapy is that something sufficiently extreme could leave the subject no longer a member of the human species. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ Well, in this scenario, no longer being technically human wouldn't be an issue, but it's good to note. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 16:53

CRISPR is just one potential way to alter the human genome. So there are really two questions here:

  • Could alteration of the human genome (by whatever means) produce the supersoldier you describe?
  • Would it have to be a germline alteration or could it be done to an adult specimen?

For the second point, I agree that this sounds even more iffy than the first. Body and skeleton shape, attachment points of muscles, etc. would already be set.

For the first point, probably, but getting it right would require lots of trial and error. There have been almost fully synthetic lifeforms, but so far only on very primitive examples. There is no reason why there couldn't be a synthetic lifeform with the intelligence of a human and the strength of a gorilla or an elephant.


Just because you cant feel pain doesn't mean your muscles wont tear; just means you cant feel it. Superhuman strength is an impossibility without two other factors

  1. Superhuman durability, the ability of bones, joints, soft tissues and muscles to exert without breaking under the duress.
  2. Superhuman or an external energy source outsite metabolism. Lifting one ton of weight requires one ton of Force. A bricklayer can lift a ton of bricks, over time, one or two bricks at a time, over the span of a given time. A man exercising; will burn 700 calories by bench pressing a hundred pounds a hundred times over the span of probably an hour..........to lift the equivalent (10,000 pounds) he would have to burn all those calories instantly. At 700 calories per second a functioning Superstrong person would have to impossibly consume 42,000 calories (35 pounds of pasta) for a minutes worth of strength.
  • $\begingroup$ I’m not sure that your metabolic example makes sense. Slowly or quickly lifting 100 lbs 100 times should theoretically require the same amount of energy. But to suggest that the amount of weight lifted scales linearly with the amount of calories burned doesn’t sound right to me. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for more weight to require more calories, but the linear model specifically is my problem. Perhaps I’m wrong though, do you have any interesting citations? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ More weight requires more energy. A ton of force requires a ton of energy. More practical the energy required to lift one tonne to a height of one meter is given by the equation 'mgh' - mass times the acceleration due to gravity times the height, so that's 1000 * 9.8 * 1, or 9,800 Joules or 2300 gram calories and that's just to lift it, let alone, move it. $\endgroup$
    – LazyReader
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 1:39

A gorilla becomes a gorilla during gestation

Organogenesis is the process that causes internal organs to form. Things like bones, and muscles, and where the muscles attach, and all that stuff? Those are all built during organogenesis. Once that process is done, it is done.

If humans, like geckoes, could regrow detached body parts, it might be possible to use genetic engineering on an adult and make meaningful changes to a grown person's body plan. If you're willing to put up with regrowing all the person's limbs.

But we don't. Once our parts are fully formed, that's that. Genetic engineering to give someone genes to build the body plan of a gorilla will only do something if the person is an embryo at the time. Once they've grown up, those genes don't do anything anymore.

In other words, the answer is no. CRISPR by itself is not enough. People would have to be engineered in the womb, creating newtype humans that might be customizable via CRISPR. Doing things like that is way beyond what CRISPR can do.


There has been some work done on this field already - at least with regards to animals. Scientists have identified one single gene which acts as an arbiter of muscle mass in mammals (the myostatin gene).

This gene has been identified in cattle but humans share it with them and other mammals. Together with another regulatory gene called follistatin scientists have basically pinned down the genetics of muscle mass. So in theory you could select the variant of both genes that maximized muscle mass on a human frame while minimizing adverse side effects and insert it into human embryos to produce Olympic class weight lifters on demand. A note of warning though. There is an upper limit to how much you can alter the gene and increase muscle mass without adverse side effects appearing - look up 'over muscled' cows - Belgium Blues and other animals where the gene has been tinkered with to see a list of adverse side effects. Go to far and your soldiers will not thank you.

Another word of caution. Strength, while obviously useful to a soldier is only one of a number of attributes that make for an effective fighter. Indeed simple physical strength is NOT the most most important element when it comes to being a good soldier, not by any means. More important are factors relating to psychological and physiological resilience/endurance. The genetics behind these factors are vastly more complex and much less understood than those of mere physical strength.

It does you no good to have a 'super soldier' who can repeatedly bench press 100 kilos for hours on end with ease but who have sub optimal mental and psychological endurance. Ignore these elements and you could end up with super strong soldiers who crumble under pressure due to PTSD and/or lack of rest. Reflexes, emotional resilience and intelligence are assets to take into consideration and again the genetics behind these issues are not yet understood.

Lastly remember your extraordinarily well trained and expensive super soldier can still be killed by a half starved, poorly trained, conscripted peasant armed with a crappy rifle. He might kill 10 of the enemy first but he can be killed. War cemeteries are full of 'elite' soldiers.


Theoretically you could edit genes in such a way that you have incredible physical specimens. No gorilla genes required.

For strength, at least half of it is attributable to muscle size and the myostatin gene can be suppressed in this scenario. Myostatin keeps muscle growth controlled and by suppressing it muscle growth is crazy. Consider the Belgian Blue Cow or the Bully Whippet as animal examples of this.

For muscle endurance, having your muscles comprised predominantly of type I slow twitch muscle fibers is what separates elite athletes from regular people (along with training of course). Now this negatively impact strength, but given all the extra muscle that be gained by suppressing myostatin should offset that and then some.

These two modifications alone would result in humans capable of much more than what we would currently expect. Maybe you could modify height in certain divisions to have men with truly monstrous strength. Maybe you could modify some to be shorter and much more agile. You’re in the driver’s seat, gene editing has the potential to do these things. Adults stand to benefit very little, but an embryo could be changed in whatever characteristics that scientists in your story have isolated genes for.


If CRISPR is being used then there's really no need for the middle man as you could just as likely bio hack our cells to produce the compound. plus bacteria that don't destroy our cells tend to not thrive inside the human body and if they do need to cause an infection to live then there's no guarantee the patient will survive the infection, even mild ones can get out of hand in extreme cases, especially the harsh conditions of war. Not to mention that removing the limiting factor from muscles just means we won't be able to tell when we've over exerted ourselves and caused damage to our muscle fibers, sure an average human can lift a bus and they have been reported to do so when filled with adrenaline to do something like save a baby but the follow up on such stories is often the user of their "full potential" dying or ending up with crazy amounts of muscle damage and needing extensive care.

  • $\begingroup$ They would still be able to feel pain and tell that they were over-straining their body; they would just be able to utilize full adrenaline strength any time they pleased, regardless of the damage it would cause. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ And that is fair; The bacterial infection part wouldn't be needed. I'll go ahead and edit the question. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 16:28

Yes you can remove the limitations, but why would you?

Humans do limit their muscle power, but they can already release these limitations in fight or flight mode. This is what happens when you hear about a parent lifting one end of a car to get their child out from under it. The thing about these limitations is that they are there for a good reason. Using your full strength means you damage you muscles, your tendons, your bones, potentially rip the tendon anchorpoints out along with bone chuncks. Using the full range of strength for just a few seconds will cause tremendous damage to yourself, and you can expect weeks if not months of recovery afterwards.

The extra strength by using Gorilla DNA is also a drawback for supersoldiers. While superstrength is often one of the most basic of superpowers it also comes with limitations to endurance. A Silverback gorilla simply wont be doing a day-long march and still have the strength to do any combat, let alone throw a car. You might use them for short engagements but to make their strength worth it is going to be hard. And even a Silverback Gorilla with its limitations removed is going to have a hard time throwing cars. He might lift them, but throwing is another matter alltogether.

I would focus my supersoldiers on endurance and speed. For strength I would look into powered exeskeletons to carry heavier weapons and armor rather than biological improvements, assuming you still think you need it. But aside from carrying your basic gear with you there is little reason to become even stronger. You want your soldier to carry a bunch of armor and gear for the better part of a day, not carry very heavy equipment for two hours and then rest the rest of the day.


The premise of your question arises from a false myth on the level of "humans only use 10% of their brain power"

Lift heavy weights>get stronger> get old>get weaker>die

Humans have no limiters, the only thing limiting human strength is time. After you get older, strength is gonna decrease, unless you take medically prescribed steroids.

To remove the limit you need immortality.

Motor unit recruit doesn't happen all at once not because otherwise it would injure us, injuries do not work that way.

Let me give an example to you, you already have enough strength in your arms to pull your finger and break it. You already have enough strength in your leg to kick a wall and break your bones...you already have enough strength in your arms to break your neck...

What is the likehood of you doing any of that?

Motor unit recruitment doesn't happen at 100% because our nervous systems do not have the energy to do so, and if they did it would burn all the muscle at once.

Muscle is consumed slowly with work, using 100% of a muscle at once would mean that the muscle instantly got completely wasted and can't be used.

People get sore legs from squats and have difficulties walking and standing up, imagine if they used the entire muscles ...they would not even be able to move at all the legs until they recovered....they would be paralized for days.

Muscle recovery can take between weeks to Months and the only reason we are still able to walk after doing barbell squats is because we have more muscle to consume and use while the already consumed one is recovering.

Whats the point of using all your muscle tissue at once if you are gonna remain paralized for weeks and months afterwards?

Another example: you do bicep curls, good you just damaged 10% to 20% of your bicep brachii, you still have 80% to use tomorrow and your arm is not paralized, you can still lift a water glass to your mouth to drink.


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