According to our current understanding of biology and chemistry, could genetically engineered supersoldiers that digest hydrocarbons (such as those found in gasoline) feasibly be created within a world set in the near future (say the next 20 years)?

I imagine this as the supersoldiers having digestive enzymes that can break down hydrocarbons into usable metabolites, as well as an altered digestive tract that is resistant to its solvent properties, but I am sure there are other factors I am not considering.

Tactically, I imagine the incentive for gasoline-powered supersoldiers to be that they can (at least temporarily) live off a highly energy-dense food source, which also happens to be the same fuel that powers ground vehicles, greatly simplifying logistics and perhaps allowing greater scavenging potential in urban environments. That said, the focus of this question is on the biochemistry of such soldiers, not their tactical viability.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking us to help you design gasoline-powered super soldiers for your imaginary world? If so, what's the specific problem you need help with? Because bringing the fantastic into the Real World isn't what we do here. See the help center. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 25, 2023 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ NATO military vehicles generally do not use gasoline. Most ground and air vehicles are designed to use F-34 diesel (or a substitute), with various additives for stability, inhibiting corrosion, changing the freezing point, etc. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jun 25, 2023 at 2:30
  • $\begingroup$ It seems a contradiction that a society would have vast sums available to breed platoons/companies/battalions of supersoldiers, but then be so parsimonious as to require these elite weapons to squander their valuable time scavenging for sustenance -- or so incompetent as to let them be cut off from their regular-food (and water and ammunition) supply. That's how you lose a war. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jun 25, 2023 at 2:36
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    $\begingroup$ worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/214426/30492 $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jun 25, 2023 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ Scavenging for gasoline may become rather difficult on the 20 year timeframe. Unleaded? Sure, there's a couple cans in the last aisle, next to the VHS tapes and floppy disks. $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2023 at 12:06

1 Answer 1


It's not reasonable to expect genetic engineering to produce humans that can digest hydrocarbons in the next 20 years. Instead of just swapping out one gene for another, we would need to develop the genetics to enable this ability -- with time for only the first generation to reach adulthood.

But if you want to wave your hands around this, you could genetically engineer a microorganism that digests hydrocarbons and excretes chemicals that are usable and helpful to your supersoldiers. These microorganisms are also engineered to live directly within the gut of your supersoldiers. Maybe this has some interesting side-effects, like your supersoldiers farting out clouds of exhaust. Nobody wants to march behind the diesel drinkers. They love to send out a thick, black cloud of noxious gas before racing off with the company's flag in tow.

More reasonable is to change the fuel that vehicles are using. In the name of sustainability, all vehicles run on a form of ethanol in 20 years. This ethanol is perfectly digestible for humans as well. Your supersoldiers are designed to drink huge amounts of ethanol, use it efficiently as an energy source, and not get drunk. Or maybe when they're drunk, they just get fearless and extra strong.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the fast reply. Regarding your first paragraph, I was under the impression (although I may be entirely incorrect) that we already have the technology to apply gene therapies in vivo, i.e you could inject a fully grown person with a vial of 'let me drink petrol', and within X amount of time their body will restructure to allow such. Regarding your last paragraph, ethanol seems to have a lower energy density than butter, making it seem less viable as an energy source. Of course, it would still provide the advantage of having your soldiers and vehicles run on the same fuel source. $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Jun 25, 2023 at 0:47
  • $\begingroup$ Although the microorganism workaround is a good idea, we could turn our soldiers into little gasoline ruminants $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Jun 25, 2023 at 0:48
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    $\begingroup$ @MS - you can't completely replace someone's gastric system with genetic therapy. The tissues and organs don't get replaced. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jun 25, 2023 at 1:03
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    $\begingroup$ @MS You need more than a few new proteins, you need whole metabolic pathways with proper coordination and control of expression - hundreds of genes. And that still doesn't restructure the digestive system that developed before birth. $\endgroup$
    – Cloudberry
    Jun 25, 2023 at 12:14
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    $\begingroup$ What Cloudberry said. Plus, gasoline (even purified of other more toxic hydrocarbons) is systemically toxic, and volatile. So even if your stomach can magically handle it, your lungs are going to start having to deal with gasoline vapours. So your entire body needs to be reconfigured to process something that actively destroys things like red cells on contact. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jun 25, 2023 at 18:53

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