I'm trying to design a realistic genetically engineered nanotech super-soldier with a full set of redundant organs. How much more interior volume and thus height/weight/muscle mass would a human body need to support 2 hearts, 3 lungs, 2 stomachs, 3 kidneys, 2 livers, 2 sets of large and small intestines, 2 esophagi/trachea, and 2 sets of certain major bones (femur, spine, humerus etc.)? Additionally, could a human brain be "taken apart" and redistributed throughout the body while still functioning? This super soldier should be designed with as many safeguards and redundancies as possible.

Also, this bio-engineered human needs to still look... human. Is it possible to accommodate for all these changes with only an increase in height and muscle mass, or is it inevitable that anyone with this much modification will start to look like a walking tank made of meat?

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    $\begingroup$ Two kidneys and two lungs is already redundant. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Oct 5, 2016 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ Backup is actually good however being energy efficient ensure a specie survival, cow solves digesting difficult grass as for human we already having difficulty multitasking unless we made bigger brain with turbo to allow extra organs.(opinion) $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Oct 5, 2016 at 0:55
  • $\begingroup$ Doubled bones just can't work. You will lose too much agility by modifying the bone structure. Beside you have 2 bones in your for-arm but if you break your radius good luck using your arm. Do you know Warhammer 40K and the Space Marines ? Thats the super soldiers you looking for. The description of their mutation is very well detailed. $\endgroup$
    – Rigop
    Oct 5, 2016 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ Surprisingly relevant: The Radcliff movie "Victor Frankenstein" has a similar discussion to address building a creature which can survive reanimation. www.imdb.com/title/tt1976009 $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Oct 5, 2016 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ Z.Schroeder, I've noticed you ask a lot of hard-science questions. That's great; in the future, can you flag your questions so a mod can add the above post notice? I only check the newest questions on the tag periodically, so knowing that there's one I should add the notce to would be helpful. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Oct 5, 2016 at 14:57

3 Answers 3


The extra weight shouldn't be too bad. From Quora:

Approximate body weight distribution for a lean adult:

Bone: men 15%; women 10%
Muscle: men 45%; women 37%
Organs: men and women: 25%
Fat: men 15%; women 28%

So you're looking at adding 25-40% weight, depending on how many of the bones you replace.

However, the brain is an issue. You cannot distribute the brain without drastically changing its functionality. Neuron impulses are actually quite slow (120m/s at the highest), so moving parts of the brain to different areas actually adds a non-trivial latency in communication which would drastically change the way the brain operates.

For an interesting data-point, we actually do quite a bit of processing in the spinal column itself, especially for walking. It's closer to the rest of the body, so the delays are lower. It turns out that if you bump your left hand into something while walking, your right foot will have adjusted its gait before your brain stem has even processed the impact!

As for the shape of your human, the real limiting factor is going to be useful redundancy. I can carry 100 eggs in a basket, but I don't have redundancy if I break them all at once. An extra femur is going to be... well... an extra bone in the leg. If something was breaking leg bones before, it now gets to break twice as many. You're likely going to have to do some substantial restructuring to make that redundancy useful.

  • $\begingroup$ So if we eschew the idea of redundant bones and stick to just organs, then you could realistically create an otherwise normal-looking 7-8 foot tall human with redundancies for most of their vital organs? What about machines? Would adding redundancies in the form of backup artificial hearts and lungs be more efficient than multiple instances of the same fleshy organs? $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2016 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Z.Schroeder There may be a point in the future where machines could help. However, I remember a discussion of trying to make an artificial liver where they wrote down all of the things the liver did and realized they'd need an entire building to house all of the machines it'd take to replace a liver! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Oct 5, 2016 at 4:08

You don't need full sized duplicate organs if they are just for emergency redundancy. The liver, for example, can function for a time with a much smaller size, so you could have a smaller accessory lobe somewhere else. But the problem with sudden traumatic liver loss isn't the actual loss of the liver, it is the extreme hemorrhage because of how vascular the liver is.

You could also have collapsed lungs in reserve, but it is hard to imagine where they would be other than in the chest cavity, which is already occupied with the regular lungs. Penetrating chest trauma, chemical attack, or explosive overpressure would affect all the lungs in that area. But if you could somehow collapse the "in use" lungs and inflate a pristine lung in it's place you may be able to mitigate a lot of the damage for a short time.

Back-up hearts distributed elsewhere (such as the pelvis) could work and also wouldn't need to be as large as the primary heart (if it was intended for just a short time before exhaustion). But if you want redundancy for primary heart loss you would need one for pulmonary perfusion as well as systemic perfusion since the primary heart is hooked up to both vascular systems.

What you really need are collateral arteries that can open up to bypass a damaged main artery, like a cut carotid. The drop in blood pressure to the brain causes you to pass out. Anything that could keep pressure up in the brain would allow for continued function, at least for a short while.

You don't really need a back-up kidney in the short term, but you can stick one anywhere, since transplanted kidneys can function anywhere they can get blood (and a drain for urine). Same with back-up intestines. You don't even NEED intestines if you can get all your nutrients intravenously (Total Parenteral Nutrition). The big issue is intestinal injury dumping gut bacteria into the belly, causing sepsis which can kill you pretty quick.

So, in short, it is pretty hard to redistribute or reorganize human anatomy but still retain the basic shape if your goal is combat redundancy. Getting shot in the belly will rupture both sets of intestines. Getting stabbed in the chest will pierce all the lungs there (and you need the rigidity of the ribcage and the diaphragm for lungs to work). A duplicate vascular system would be of benefit, but it would be a neat trick to get it to function properly to allow for bypassing injured areas but still connect in order to perfuse the smaller vessels. You COULD have a collapsed lung that gets opened up in the event the main lungs collapse, as that would just require a limited set of tracheal and vascular branching, but this is a pretty niche use case since the torso is so easy to armor already. Duplicate kidneys, liver, and other organs (like the thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, etc) are either unnecessary (since there is already a second copy in the body) or the immediate loss isn't important. Probably your best option is splitting up the liver into smaller lobes spread across the abdomen. The function shouldn't be impaired so long as the total mass is the same and having smaller sub-livers will limit a major source of abdominal traumatic hemorrhage. One lobe will still need to be near the stomach in order to supply the gallbladder with bile.


It wouldn't help for a supersoldier.

When a soldier is shot, the cause of death isn't usually damage to a specific organ, it's from the of trauma caused by the loss of all blood pressure, the shock to the rest of the body from suddenly limited oxygen supply, and bleeding out through the wound.

If you were trying to make a supersoldier, focus on mitigation of injuries. Blood vessels that can constrict to limit bleeding, extra bone and muscle mass to absorb impact from bullets and shockwaves. Less pain and panic response so they keep their cool under pressure.

Put simply, it doesn't make too much sense to double up on internal organs. They need to get blood to them, and a gunshot wound stops that whether or not there's more organs.

  • $\begingroup$ Duly noted. I was already planning on incorporating blood vessels that constrict to prevent blood loss, but I hadn't considered them as important as redundant organs. So taking that into account, the most effective design would be to only double up on the organs you absolutely need to live in the short term besides the brain (heart, trachea and lungs) while increasing muscle and bone density, reducing blood loss in thr event of trauma, and mitigating the effects of shock and the body's response to pain? $\endgroup$ Oct 5, 2016 at 4:25
  • $\begingroup$ If they panic, they are dead. This "design" for a supersoldier takes into account the the most common misunderstanding- Bullets won't kill instantly (unless it hits the brain stem), but they do so much damage that the body goes into shock and they are most likely to die shortly after. Minimising the effects of shock will allow them to continue fighting, getting to help and/or neutralising the threat. If a soldier is shot in the liver they will likely go into shock from the loss of blood pressure to the brain, and if untreated, die from blood loss shortly after, not from liver failure. $\endgroup$
    – Giacomo
    Oct 5, 2016 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ It's also worth considering how else you could better make a super-soldier resistant to being wounded - if I was modifying a person to protect them from bullets, I'd make them far stronger than a normal human so that they can wear lots and lots of body armour. Bigger muscles, a stronger skeleton and a bigger heart and lungs are probably also simpler adaptations than additional organs too. $\endgroup$ Jan 10, 2017 at 12:51

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