A good summary of the Zerg race is given on wikipedia as follows:

The Zerg are a collective consciousness of a variety of different races assimilated into the Zerg genome. The Zerg were originally commanded by the Zerg Overmind, a manifestation of this hive mind, and under the Overmind's control the Zerg strove for genetic perfection by assimilating the favorable traits of other species.After a species has been assimilated into the Swarm, it is mutated towards a different function within its hierarchy, from being a hive worker to a warrior strain

In other words, if the zerg see some biological feature they like, they assimilate the creatures that possess that feature to evolve into more adaptable creatures.

Furthermore, the starcraft wiki goes into some details about the Zerg's genetic structure:

zerg genetic material consists of DNA, seemingly in the shape of a double helix. However, when a zerg strain's DNA evolves, it becomes less flexible. -http://starcraft.wikia.com/wiki/Zerg

The question is, given what we know about biology and evolution thus far, would it be possible for such a race of aliens to exist in the real universe?

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  • 5
    To clarify for those not familiar with the game; The "details" about the Zerg's genetic structure exist mainly to hand-wave the fact that you can only shapeshift your units INTO more specialized units, and you can't un-shapeshift your units back to the stem-unit. (ie: A Zerg Drone may 'evolve' into one of eleven different bio-structures, but none of them can morph back into a drone). – Ayelis Jun 12 '15 at 0:13
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The first part is definitely possible- humans can already artificially modify the genomes of living organisms to do pretty much whatever we want. One of the means we use to do this, in fact, is retroviruses, which I suppose technically are the zerg if you wanted to loosen the definition a bit; they inject their DNA into living organisms' genomes, and those organisms produce copies of the virus.

Then there's bacterial conjugation; bacteria directly swapping sections of genome. It's one of the ways genetic traits manage to proliferate between bacteria.

Now, whether the "hivemind" thing would work depends on the precise mechanism of hivemind communication. Faster-than-light? Very unlikely. Not actually theoretically impossible (just locally impossible), because wormholes and black holes, but (as far as we know at the moment) the living organisms would need to be slingshotting their radio signals around orbiting black holes with relatively precise trajectories, or they'd need to be somehow producing enormous amounts of exotic matter / negative energy. Staggering quantities. Suns' worth.

However, if they just coordinated thoughts with massless particle transmitters-receivers (like your TV remote) while still maintaining separate brains and coordinating multiple thought processes (like a distributed operating system), that'd work just fine. In a very real sense, your brain is itself a hivemind, because all of the cells which comprise it could survive separately from each other in the right medium. Even the organelles within those cells (cf. mitochondria) can maintain a degree of autonomy under the right conditions.

I have no idea what they mean by the DNA becoming "less flexible", so I can't really comment on that.

Also, full disclosure, I'm not a geneticist or physicist. So, if any of you are, and feel I've misrepresented something, feel free to call me out on that / edit and correct.

  • 2
    This is what your "hive-mind" section reminded me of. – Tom Anderson Jun 12 '15 at 11:37
  • @TomAnderson Haven't run across that webcomic, before. Thanks, man. :) (Also, rereading what I wrote, I've decided to use the phrase "massless particle receiver-transmitter" way more often in everyday life. As in "pass me that massless particle receiver-transmitter", "...You mean the wireless router?", "Yeah. That's what I said.") – Parthian Shot Jul 15 '15 at 1:38
  • The Zerg themselves are indeed more of a dissociated/distributed hivemind (there are even politics between "nodes", iirc); in the first game, at least, when doing the Zerg campaign you play as one such node rather than as the Overmind itself. – JAB Sep 14 '16 at 16:41

I think there is an animal that is kinda similar to that. The ants, Zerg tend to be like a colony and the queen (which can be the overmind) can tell them what to do. Also, specific ants do specifics things. For example: Honey Pot Ants recolect food and then provided to other ants; Worker make the colony bigger; Warrior Ants fight to protect the colony, etc... Which is how Zergs work (I play SC2).

However, the only way to assimilate another living attribute doesn't really exist. I mean, there may be some viruses or bacteria that can do that or something similar, but not an animal or plant. The only way to change the genetic of a living thing is manually, and by that I mean artificially modify their genes.

EDIT: I just found this website where it shows how Ant and Zergs are similar http://thwacke.com/2012/10/heart-of-the-swarm-insects-may-have-had-the-zerg-figured-out-before-blizzard-did/

  • Do you have any evidence that queen ants tell the rest of the colony what to do? – kingledion Dec 4 '16 at 5:12

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