In story after sci-fi story you have images of clones stepping out of some sort of gooey bathtub or cloudy coffin type device. Be they a single doppelganger or whole clone armies.


I am interested in all cloning scenarios as they may influence what I incorporate and how my story can be edited. Currently my scenario is a Interstellar Hospital Ship. Designed to get to planets/space-stations during emergencies that are not equipped for large disasters/conflict etc.

It would settle into orbit around planet or dock with space-station and provide medical relief. It would be designed to deal with large numbers and varieties of patients and medical issues. Most patients would be treated with 'normal' technology and returned back to their wherever they came from, Some would undergo lengthy procedures onboard and some would be shipped back to more centralised systems and undergo whatever lengthy medical procedure is needed that the ship can't deal with. But in some cases this wouldn't be feasable. This is where cloning and a combination of other tech would come into play.

For whatever reason death is imminent and the individual/s are necessary for the survival of the colony/station etc and they can't wait for travel back to the central systems or longer medical techniques on-board the ship. Cloning would be a last resort solution. Numbers for cloning can range from a single individual to the entire colony. There could be renegade situations where the cloning tech is used to create a clone army! You know human nature; anything for an edge in conflict!

Consensus seems that you can't clone a person's brain as the neurons and brain chemistry etc goes down to the quantum physics scale. At best you would get a 'fuzzy copy'. Right now that is not the issue. Clarifiction: I don't need the clone to have any knowledge, memories or skills at the moment. Just a fully functioning body.

Consensus also seems to be that you can alter a person's DNA (we do it even today with genome therapy, though on a very small scale) but any changes would only be seen in future descendents.

MY QUESTION: How would your sufficiently advanced human/alien/other-worldly scientist grow a clone in a short timeframe of a day or so?

Taking into account energy requirements, and materials needed to make a healthy copy of your subject (we are essentially a very big and complex sandcastle of different minerals and stardust)?

  1. Would you have a batch of pre-manufactured body blanks that could be 'dressed' with the genetic code of a subject? Give them some sort of energy boost to activate the DNA into action.

    IMAGINE a larder full of blanks (at varying age development) hanging on conveyor belt like system.

  2. Would you have to start from petri dish level and watch them develop though embryo, foetus, child, toddler, to the age of your subject in some sort of suspended animation sort device? (as Jay pointed out, this could be some sort of enhanced growth machine of your cloned material)

    IMAGINE a room full of containers with lots of goo, with clones in varying age development

  3. As Ghotir Suggested, you simply, print the clone using a very advanced 3D printer.

    IMAGINE pretty much just watch 'The Fifth Element' cloning scene and ignore the dated graphics.

Which clone is more likely to be able to 'get up and go'?

Would you have to incorporate some sort of muscle strengthening/conditioning so they don't just collapse on the floor the moment they step out of their gooey bath/cloudy coffin shaped birthing chamber!

Note. I'm using the reality check tag to get some perspective on how totally insane a science fiction process can be while still sounding plausible to my ever-suffering, only mildly-bewildered reader! I'm also assuming this would have to take place some time in the far future. At least a couple hundred to thousand years.

EDITED to include some suggestions/reminders/clarifications from the comments and answers so far. Also included my story setting.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you hoping to write science fiction (a story where technology is commonplace which could probably exist in reality but doesn't yet), or science fantasy (a fantasy story with a futuristic/technological setting)? Most "science fiction" is actually science fantasy. $\endgroup$
    – Mar
    Jun 21, 2016 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ You could make "blanks" by removing the biomarkers that cause host-graft reactions somehow. $\endgroup$ Jun 22, 2016 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ Have you read Brin's Kiln People? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jun 22, 2016 at 2:19
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    $\begingroup$ build robots - fast cheap and dirty. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Not as dirty as grown up clones with no potty training.... $\endgroup$
    – xDaizu
    Dec 20, 2017 at 11:19

4 Answers 4


How would your sufficiently advanced human/alien/other-worldy scientist grow a clone in a short timeframe of a day or so?

Start with the absolutely realistic concept of organ printing, make it a far more mature technology, and scale it up from an organ to a body. Given what we can do now, I believe this is absolutely possible for a reasonable advance in technology.

Note that this does not address how to handle the consciousness or knowledge - I think that's a far harder problem to solve.

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    $\begingroup$ Now I remember the option from 'The Fifth Element'! Would bioprinting leave any sort of genetic markers saying the organ/body was printed rather than grown naturally? $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ This was also basically the idea in The Sixth Day, where evil corporations were cloning people behind the government's back. In that movie, they also manipulated the DNA during the cloning process to make sure the clone's had a limited life span by way of genetic diseases that'd kill in about 5 years (e.g. you were expected to keep paying for immortality). They grew blanks that were imprinted with the DNA unique to the person as the last step. It was implied the blanks took a long time to grow, but the final step took just a few hours. $\endgroup$
    – phyrfox
    Jun 21, 2016 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps I think that depends on whether you want it to for your setting. :) It's also possible that printing would "look" different at a molecular level: simple (cheap) 3D printed plastic can sometimes have a very recognizable look due to the manufacturing process. Perhaps, in this case, it'd be cells that looked far too regular to be truly organic. $\endgroup$
    – Ghotir
    Jun 21, 2016 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ Consciousness is just the matrix of synapses in the brain plus the neurotransmitter soup. If you can recreate the brain in the exact same matrix, (plus the other organs) you get exactly the same person. $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ The trouble with the 3D Printing idea is that you need a large feedstock of cells. And the cells need to either be of the right cell type, or perhaps you could use stem cells -- somatic or embryonic -- as long as a sufficient proportion were cells of the right type. If you're not concerned with the body being 100% genetic identical, perhaps you could use generic cells for much of the printing and only use the patient's own cells where absolutely necessary -- resulting in a chimera. $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 21:42

Science fiction clones often bear little resemblance to real-life cloning.

In real life, "cloning" means taking a cell from some living creature, and then inducing that cell to fission and reproduce, growing it through all the stages in and out of the womb -- embryo, fetus, new-born baby, child, adolescent, and finally adult.

I've seen plenty of sci fi movies where someone steps into the "cloning chamber" and ten minutes later a full-grown adult walks out. That's just not how cloning works. A clone has to go through all the stages of growth that an "ordinary" person does.

One could, of course, speculate on having a technology to make a person (or whatever creature, but I assume we're primarily talking about people here) grow faster, to develop from an embryo to an adult in weeks or hours instead of 20 years. That would be a totally separate technology from cloning, though presumably if it was invented it could be applied to clones.

Exactly how it would work raises all sorts of questions. Even if you could somehow accelerate physical development, this person would then have no education or experience. It's hard to imagine how the result would be a functioning adult. You could speculate then on yet another technology, some feed into the brain that would give a person a lifetime of education and some equivalent of experience in a few hours. I suppose you could imagine copying a living person's memories to the "quick" person, or maybe a lifetime of fake memories could be synthesized by technicians and fed into this person. Anything like this is way beyond our current science and technology, but if you're writing a sci fi story, you can suppose whatever technology you need, right?

When you take the cell from the original subject, you could theoreteically modify the DNA in that cell before starting it fissioning. Then every cell in the clone's body would have the altered DNA.

The idea of having "blanks" that you would "imprint" ... somehow you'd have to modify the DNA in every cell. As there are something like 100 trillion cells in a human body, that would be a daunting task. There's no natural mechanism to multiply genetic changes throughout the body -- if there was, anything that damaged a cell, hazardous chemicals, sunburn, etc -- would quickly kill you. Maybe you could invent some process that would carry the genetic change from cell to cell, nanobots or something. That seems a whole lot harder than altering one cell before you start the whole process.

There are still huge problems with cloning a mammal. The famous sheep clone Dolly began aging prematurely and died after 6 years, about half the normal lifespan of a sheep. Dolly was basically born already middle-aged. I presume this relates to telomeres -- mammal cells can only fission a limited number of times -- but I haven't studied the issue further. It's quite possible that if and when this problem is solved, there will be other obstacles. Producing a truly successful mammal clone is still several breakthrus away. A 10-minute clone is the technological equivalent of warp drive or time travel: you can certainly write a science fiction story about it, but nobody today has the vaguest idea of how you would actually do it.

  • $\begingroup$ "Even if you could somehow accelerate physical development, this person would then have no education or experience. It's hard to imagine how the result would be a functioning adult". I do plan on a separate technology to be applied at some stage during the cloning to give my clone the memories of the subject so that for all intents and purposes they are the same person. But there are awhole lot of issues with that theory at the moment and I think for this question beyond the 'too broad' limit! $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ Telomeres aren't cells; they're "caps" on the DNA inside of cells that provide a hard limit on how many times the cell can divide before degradation associated with old age sets in. $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler I didn't mean that telomeres were cells, but that the way telomeres works puts a limit on the number of times a mammal cell can fission. Sorry if my wording was unclear. I was trying to avoid getting into unnecessary technical details. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jun 21, 2016 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Imprinting every body cell with patient DNA seems unnecessary to me. Chimeras are common, and cells of different lines can exist in the same body. As long as immune reactions are under control, you could keep the generic cell lines in most places and only use patient DNA where absolutely required. $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ @RossPresser Well okay, conceivable. I suppose if you had the technology to tailor DNA you could modify the cells relevant to the change but not others. But still, if you were modifying DNA to, say, give this person incredible eyesight, you'd have to modify all the millions of cells related to eyesight. There'd be few cases where you could modify just a handful of cells and get a useful effect. Not to say none. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jun 22, 2016 at 2:45

Growing a human from a single egg is limited by the speed of biochemical reactions, supply of nutrients, and the need for chemical gradients to "tell" the body when and where to grow. If you had all the nutrients laid out with pre-existing chemical gradients you may be able to implant dozens/hundreds of pluripotent stem cells along this "blank" and have everything begin growing at once. So the bones form alongside the muscles and the internal organs. This way you wouldn't be limited by the need to have the circulatory system grow to supply nutrients and remove wastes or the placenta analogue to do the same. Currently our rate of growth is limited by these restrictions. Human cells typically take 12-24 hours to divide, but other species can be much faster.

You will probably have a real problem with tumors as all this fast growing will have to be switched on and off with extreme precision, if a cell fails to respond appropriately it could lead to a tumor or the failure of an organ to properly develop.

About the only way to build a body really quickly is to assemble one from pre-grown parts and grafts. Of course it will still need time for all the connections to heal, blood vessels to bridge gaps, and for nerve endings and lymphatics to grow down to the terminal endings.

There are other considerations. Our immune system, for example, is "trained" in how to recognize self versus not-self, as well as lots of environmental pathogens. We also have lots of colonizing organisms on our skin and in our gut (and probably elsewhere) that will have to be seeded as well, lest the clone get a fatal infection within hours of "birth". Neuromuscular control is also learned as we grow, neurons are mapped out in our youth. Replicating this artificially would be a significant challenge if you want your clone to pop out ready to fight.

If all you wanted was short lifespan soldiers you probably don't need DNA at all. It would basically be like going through chemotherapy (high replicating areas would suffer first) but if you were dropping these guys in for just one or two battles you would be ok. Maybe just the sensitive areas are cloned from DNA, things like bone marrow, the gut, and the skin. The rest could be stock "blanks" made of generic tissue that can't replicate itself. This would reduce the "grow" time of a clone. Severely edited DNA sequences (just what each cell line needs to function) may speed up replication as well, but then the cells could be very sensitive to radiation or drugs/toxins that interfere with DNA since every sequence is important (unlike our DNA, which is filled with junk sequences).

  • $\begingroup$ ''Or the placenta analog'' So they would have no belly buttons!! I was wondering about that. $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ Well, you would need some way to remove waste toxins and with complex multicellular organisms a circulatory system is about the only way to do that. But with a big "blank" it may have working liver and kidneys fast enough to allow for internal detoxification and waste removal (via the bladder) as well as O2/CO2 exchange in the lungs that external blood transfer won't be necessary. Or they have an ECMO type hook-up instead of using the umbilical vessels. $\endgroup$
    – Jason K
    Jun 21, 2016 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ Your ECMO comment lead me to this. While not about cloning it has some useful stuff about foetus development. geneticliteracyproject.org/2016/04/06/… $\endgroup$ Jun 21, 2016 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ Still have belly buttons. That connects the placental analog to the feotus. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jun 22, 2016 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ Space: Above and Beyond had a caste of clones that, were derogatorily called "tanks", since they were grown in tanks. They were also sometimes called "nipple-necks" because the umbilical cord for the tank connected to the back of the neck, leaving a very obvious mark. I believe they lacked a normal "belly button". $\endgroup$ Mar 7, 2017 at 20:41

Dont grow them. 3D print them with nanobots. Nanobots are smaller then cells. They can build individual amino acids from raw materials. If a natural cell can do it then nanobots can do it faster and more efficiently. Forget the genetics. That doesnt matter to a nanobot molecular 3D printer. what matters are voxels. 3D pixels. Each cubic nanometer of the organism has a list of chemicals, the geometry, the electric charge, etc. That information is stored as a list of voxels, left to right, top to bottom, etc. With a chunk of biomass you could create exact replicas in a few hours.

Note that molecular 3D printers are really good at organic chemistry because organic chemistry happens around room temperature. Its not a one size fits all solution. Steel for instance is better the way we do it now then using nanobots. But when we finally make the buggers, organic chemistry is well within their capabilities.


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