So let’s say I’ve got a new product, some sort of injection or other substance that allows customers to put a trait of some sort into some of their cells. It doesn’t have to be self-sustaining or permanent at all, and its alteration effect doesn’t need to go any further than just introducing the information for that trait into the user somehow—heck, it could even be something that needs constant replenishment. And let’s also say I’ve got a wide, interspecies and interplanetary base of customers for this.

Is there some sort of (hypothetical) biological substance I could use as an information-carrier, akin to DNA/RNA but compatible with all sorts of biochemistries rather than just one system of nucleic acids? (It doesn’t necessarily have to be full-on universal, but just not limiting it to only one or a few types of nucleotide-based genetic material would be nice.) Like a sort of “neutral” widely-readable system, or something containing multiple parts of different genetic code types.

The only job of this substance is to code a specific piece of information and not necessarily worry about being replicated, or any much further interaction with the systems of a host’s cells besides just getting the info there and allowing it to be recieved by host cells. So for example, some sort of alternate or “neutral” (if possible) system of bases/chemicals/etc that could be of use, since it doesn’t have to be replicated or integrated, only “read” by the host to utilize the information it contains. What sort of workaround might explain how an information-encoding molecule can be received and “read” by multiple types of biochemistries like that?

  • $\begingroup$ Alternatively I suppose the product in question could just include multiple variations of its information in different types of genetic material, within the same package; would this work for recipients, could their cells “ignore” unreadable genetic information from other systems of biochemistry and genetics? $\endgroup$
    – inkwell87
    Jun 18 at 10:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Is there a reason you don't want separate formulations for each species or chemistry? If they're so biochemically different from each other, your people must be used to navigating foods and medicines that are only suitable for certain species, what's one more? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jun 18 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence To some extent it’s just a matter of working this concept into the role in an actual plot outline it’ll play, though also, although I described it as a “product” to sell in my example, I’m still also considering perhaps using that sort of substance as a more biological phenomenon/ability administered in a more widespread way (rather than individually) if possible, and would like to see if there’s a way to justify that with as little artificial shaping or interference (such as the creation of different varieties, or something technological instead of biological) as possible. $\endgroup$
    – inkwell87
    Jun 18 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ You put emphasis on 'biological' - how do you figure that works? An alien with exobiochemistry will not view human RNA as 'biological', just as we will not conceive of the Taurians XYZ as 'biological'. Let's say the Taurians have silicon based molecules, we have carbon based molecules, and the solution contains germanium based nanobots that do the deed - this would not be 'biological' from either the humans nor the Taurians perspective, but why care? $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Jun 21 at 6:41
  • $\begingroup$ So basically, you want some sort of Universal DNA for injections for both Aliens/ET and Humans. And since they are wayyy diverse, you want to invent a universal information storing molecule like DNA so that you can inject traits into them? $\endgroup$ Jun 22 at 10:59

3 Answers 3


No, biochemistry doesn't work like that

If you want to have a "universal donor" that can influence genetic information of species developed on other planets you can forget about it. Even if they all use same 4 nucleotides of DNA.

The issue here is that DNA is a sequence that encode mRNA (and has control "circuits" around coding sequences). Unless you have closely related organisms same DNA sequence won't transcribe in the same mRNA (there are differences even on our planet - as RNA sequence is processed and cut; and here all living beings most likely share a common ancestor). Not to mention control mechanisms that guide gene expression won't work the same way. The next issue is translating that mRNA into proteins. Even a minor change in the process will result in a different protein. And here we again ignore post-translatic modification of proteins, which result in a different results on Earth in relatively closely related organisms (we cannot even use insect cell cultures for many human proteins, and insects are very close to us evolutionary speaking; way closer than any alien). And finaly: even if you got the exact same protein into the host cells, it still wouldn't work! Proteins need the proper environment to work correctly. And that includes all the other proteins in the cell. It would be like putting a gear shitf mechanism from a car into a 17th century sail-ship. It wouldn't really do anything.

Even if you used nanobots you most likely would need to have a different product for every different species.


Do universal viruses exist?

This would be a virus that could infect all targets that this information sharing molecule could affect. Infections infecting so many targets is such a devastating event that It would never get to that point on account of how unstable it is. Mono-culture would be an applicable term.

If the answer to if universal viruses exist is yes, then the answer to your question is yes.

This scenario wouldn't be plausible past very early life forms, immune systems and sexual reproduction/speciation slow universal information storing/sharing. If they didn't slow it down, bad things happen with infection rate of various pathogens.

No - Universal transfer of information kills

That is natural selection / evolution have have caused life to avoid universal information storing systems. Otherwise life would be weak to universal virus and other infections. There is survival advantage to not have universal transmission of information at the genetic level. Since with genetics the difference between pure information and instructions is very small.

So to answer the question yes it existed in very early life forms, but all life would be selecting against that over the long run. Because if information can be transmitted, so can viruses, the larger the pool of hosts the worse an epidemic can be.


An entangled pair of Hydrogen atoms can do this,acting as a qubit (this tech is already being tested so is it really sci-fi) Or potentially a system using Element 115 decay to cause controlled atomic splits,to create a atomic brain(SIDE EFFECTS:Can cause a nuclear explosion if fired incorrectly) But hey,it is sci-fi,not real sci,so it doesnt matter as much

I know these are not biological,but atoms make up everything,inculding all lifeforms,so atomic brain it is


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