One of the ways superheroes exist in my story is via mutation. A person is born with the ability. I want to have the powers make sense based on real-life biology, so what would work. For now, the two mutant characters I have are a telepath, and another who creates and manipulates electricity.

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    $\begingroup$ Ordinary humans are very good at generating and manipulating electricity. This very question you have posted was written and posted by clever manipulation of electricity. And we are also adept at sending words, audio and video over long distances, just like telepaths are supposed to be doing. No mutations were needed. Or you mean, with their bare hands and no machinery? What are they, animals? Designing and using tools is what makes humans human. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 22, 2020 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ They are human, but they don't need special tools. The Telepath, for example, can well-read minds or move objects via his mind like Professor X and Emma Frost. The electric guy shoots electricity from his hand, no particular device, just electricity he can generate on his own, such as Static shock and black lightning. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2020 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ There is no realistic way to have telepathy. Even the best scientific equipment we have requires people to be wired up to huge amounts of equipment or inside even larger equipment and even that does not give us a way to read a mind. Some people are very good at reading the broad outline of what people's emotional state is from their detailed external behavior, but that's a very, very long way from telepathy as some people are very good at projecting a false emotional exterior to mask their true feelings, let alone thoughts. $\endgroup$ Sep 22, 2020 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ Real-world biology doesn't provide a good basis for mutant super-powers. Certain biological traits will give your enhanced humans. But they're nothing like telepathy or electricity manipulation. Better to assume, like the comic books & bad sci-fi, that mutants have the super-powers you want for your story. Personally I despair of answers along of lines it's your world, just choose what you want in it & no explanation is needed. Otherwise search this site for previous questions about superpowers. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Sep 23, 2020 at 1:10

2 Answers 2


Some people are realistically born with abilities that most of the human population lacks. Top of mind, I can think of:

  • Ambidexterity, the ability to have fine motor skills on both sides (i.e.: can naturally write well with a pen or pencil at either hand);
  • Absolute pitch, the ability to identify or reproduce a note without the need for a reference one;
  • Diphalia, with less than a hundred cases in history, means you have a backup penis if you ever lose one. If you think losing a penis is a ridiculous supposition, let me introduce you to the Darwin Awards.
  • Having two livers means you are more resistant to alcohol (but you probably don't have a spleen).
  • Having a sixth finger on each hand might help play some otherwise unplayable songs on the piano.

Sorry man, but that's as far as you go if you want realism. Science ruins everything.

  • $\begingroup$ well, it certainly wasn't the answer I was thinking, but hey, "the more you learn." $\endgroup$ Sep 23, 2020 at 1:55

The problem of Mutant Superpowers:

While we all love comic books, they have a host of different origin stories for their heroes. Most have some murky quality, because if you ask how THAT (fill in the blank) is possible, the answer is "Because it makes a great character." I think this can be acceptable by itself, but it's not an answer to your question.

Since mutants will be a class in your world, I will try to address the category, rather than the specifics (sorry). "Mutant" is a buzz-word that people love, but only vaguely understand. Mutants are generally animals and plants with serious problems, because mutation means something has gone wrong, and something has changed. Most mutants are trivial. You are likely a mutant, but something incredibly small and minor has changed. Most mutations are tiny or bad. The more central a function is, the less it results in a surviving mutant. The consequences are suffered by children who never make the pages of a comic book. You don't know about pain-free girl, because she cut herself, didn't feel it, and died.

Super heroes are not well-explained by mutants, because the kind of abilities they have are broad, complex, and involving radical changes in how biology (or often physics) works. So how do we get really big shifts in how organisms function?

1. Genetic modification: You can have a large number of significant genes altered if some scientist (generally an evil one, due to ethical restraints on human experimentation) does it. But for this to work, the modifier has to understand what they are doing and how the powers will work. It would most often result in a significant number of "mutants" who all had the same alterations, because successful changes are hard. Given human knowledge, they are likely to be explained biologically and not involve advanced physics. So a super-strong hero with a carapace is plausible, but laser eyes and electro bolts are less so (but not impossible, give enough creativity). Hybridization with animals is falling in this category, so perhaps your electro-abilities are based on electric eel DNA.

2. Alien experimentation: Similar to genetic modification, but the limits are loosened a bit. Aliens are using the Earth as a captive experimental population, and the ethics are softer because it's a "Not-in-my-species" situation. BUT aliens can be assumed to know more about advanced physics manifest in biology. They may understand our biology better than we do.

3. We are not who we think we are: If humans are actually aliens, their abilities are normal - for aliens. So not really mutants of any kind - but if they were mutated aliens with like powers, it's just a modification of an existing power. But why do aliens look like people? This is handwaved a lot. How is an alien able to live in the terrestrial cesspool of our antigens, allergens, and incompatible amino acids (plus the lack of critical cofactors from their own world?)

4. Paradise lost: If our ancestors possessed amazing abilities and somehow lost them, then we have degenerate copies of these genes, and the right mutations can cause them to switch back on. If your ancestors were telepathic Atlanteans, the abilities evolved over countless years, not overnight. But these again will be clusters of similar abilities in an entire population, not one-off heroes. A mutation occurs multiple times resulting in the same disease, so one that fixes a loss does the same. Another question that comes up is "Why did such a great power get lost in the first place?" Answering that is grist for a story.


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