Let's say you're an alien and you want to make sure your species outlives your planet or whatever disaster you currently face, whether it be natural or engineered. You load up a bunch of self-replicating spacecraft to seed any planets they pass that have complex life with a highly infectious retrovirus (or nanovirus if you feel like there should be/want there to be nanotechnology involved) that will insert modified genes into that organism that will cause it and/or its offspring to develop some of your species' prominent traits, ensuring that your genetic information continues to propagate after you're gone.

Could this work? Would this be a realistic and/or feasible way to either colonize the cosmos or ensure the propagation of your doomed species? What complications might there be for infected organisms? Assume they have access to arbitrarily complex bio or nanotechnology (within the laws of physics).

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    $\begingroup$ Sure it will work! Where did you think we came from? Now to avoid copyright infringement against Arthur Clark's estate, make sure that the seeder spaceships in your story are not rectangular in shape and made of black obsidian. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Sep 2 '16 at 1:56
  • $\begingroup$ there is a fungus that targets specific organisms based on their dna. scientists are busy using this new discovery to try get it to target the HIVirus $\endgroup$ – Sarfaraaz Sep 2 '16 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ @HenryTaylor what story are you referencing? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Sep 4 '16 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ @JDlugosz, The entire Space Odessey series... 2001, 2010, 2061 & 3001. The monoliths seed the evolution components necessary for intelligence into the indigineous life of the solar systems they visit. They also appear to self replicate. Seemed like a pretty close match to me. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Sep 5 '16 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ I think the aliens in that series worked in situ after analying the situation. The monolith ships were not simply carrying spores. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Sep 5 '16 at 1:27

We have zero evidence that DNA is the only viable molecule for life. If it is the only one, then you might have a chance of success. But if not, I think this is infeasible. I think you'd need a much more sentient process for seeding your life on a planet in that case.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for non-DNA based life! Seems like a trade-off. If DNA is the only solution, then life will be a lot more scarce in the galaxy then if there are multple methods available, but your gene bomb will have a greater chance of success. Multiple methods to life yeilds more life but at the cost of a lower potential success rate. I think the O.P. will have to send an artificial sentience along with the bomb to make adjustments depending on what types of life it finds. We still seem to be walking in Mr. Clark's footsteps. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Sep 2 '16 at 2:15
  • $\begingroup$ We have zero evidence of any system that can do what DNA/RNA/amino acids can do. What I espect is different detail and different encoding. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Sep 4 '16 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @jdlugosz there is some evidence. newscientist.com/article/… and this en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothetical_types_of_biochemistry $\endgroup$ – SRM Sep 5 '16 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ many artificial genetic codes can do what DNA does and most of times even better. They are artificial but technically they could perfectly form in nature the same way DNA did. $\endgroup$ – five more beats Sep 11 '16 at 12:43

No, a virus is closely tied to the organisms it can infect. They plug in like a key into a lock. They rely on cell machinery matching and they rely on many other things besides.

It's like trying to take a lego mindstorm controller and plug it into knex, mechano or a tree and expecting to end up with a tree beast stomping around like the little lego man the mindstorm kit was meant to make.

Organisms might have radically different chemistry, even if they have DNA the codons might code for different bases, they might have more or less salt in their cells, they might use something totally different to DNA.

Alternatively you could have self-replicating bots/nanobots which kill and break down all local life, process it and then build wombs to create millions of clones fed with the processed material while terraforming the local environment.

  • $\begingroup$ Terraformer goo does seem like a superior option. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD Sep 2 '16 at 13:02

If you had the technology to accomplish this, there would be better ways to do it.

Viruses are tricky because they don't replicate themselves. They are 100% dependent on the cell they infect to have the tools they need to cause replication. They may code AGTTACCATGATACAT, but the semantics of that series of base pairs is entirely defined by the parent cell's transcription of that into amino acids. The mapping from one to the other is pretty arbitrary. We know of at least 26 different codon tables in different species for earthbound creatures.

All of this is the best case as well. There's no guarantee that they use DNA at all on whatever planet is reached. This may be nothing more than a really complicated sugar molecule on their planet. However, even in the best case where you land on a planet that happens to use DNA and happens to encode proteins similar to ours, you still may end up with a different coding table, and thus no valuable effect.

Of course, if you have the technology to engineer such a virus, you probably have the technology to do something more impressive. If you sent a living creature, such as a bacteria that's in hibernation, it would stand a better chance of being able to get enough of a foothold to start infecting local life. Alternatively, you could mix technology and biology. Have a probe analyze a planet, and infect it with viruses and bacteria specifically designed for that planet, specifically designed to generate the sort of life structures you want to see.


Virus could have this effect. Virus work by directly altering DNA, in fact, it's their only way to reproduce. Virus can be engineered to only effect certain species, organs, regions. Aliens wouldn't need to set foot on a planet to conquer it with Bio weapons. Virus could be delivered by probes or comets.


Not sure if your plan is feasible.

  1. As mentioned by others, we cannot assume all life in the cosmos uses DNA and RNA. They may have a different biochemistry. Or chemistry.
  2. Even if you do find another DNA/RNA world, the 'translation' of the code of bases in the genes may not be the same. The base sequence 'GATTACA' might mean 'start making haemoglobin' in Venusian DNA and mean 'shed your skin' in Martian DNA.
  3. If the alien genes are inserting themselves at random into the genetic code of other species (which they will be unless they are like little genetics professors and study the animals extensively first) then they are likely to be disrupting vital processes, and causing bizarre mutations all over the place. If you splice a gene for making antlers into the middle of a gene for making heart muscles, you will get neither antlers nor heart produced.
  4. Your aliens' prominent traits many not be compatible with the host species. Imagine trying to put giraffe characteristics into a jellyfish, butterfly or eagle.
  • $\begingroup$ Re point 4: well, we have the spider goats… $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Sep 4 '16 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz - yeah but that was inserting a gene into a specific place in the goat genome. So back to Point 3, where the nanotech has to study goat biology before it can pick the place to insert the genes. Also do the baby goats drink their mum's spidersilk milk? Is it digestible? $\endgroup$ – DrBob Sep 5 '16 at 14:52

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