Would it be at all viable for a person to have certain plant characteristics such as:

  • Chloroplasts in their hair and skin, with the skin maybe lookmuch darker because of extra light absorbance (maybe a special skin pigment to absorb the green light the chloroplasts don't).
  • An ability to become relatively inanimate, shutting off most human characteristics and surving on the plant ones.
  • If they have energy reserves the ability to start to grow 'roots' out of their skin which can absorb substances in the ground.

The person still has all basic human characteristics and would still eat but would be able to survive on less and gets extra energy, or in 'shut down mode' all energy, from their plant like features. I know that the surface area to volume ratio is a problem if the person is active, that is why they would normally still eat food.

Essentially this is for a gardener character who is very at home in their employer's garden.

Is there any way to make the person more functional and plausible?

Any more plant features that would help them be more plausibe?

  • $\begingroup$ What you're describing is simply not human anymore. Also, there's no reason for a gardener to take on these characteristics. Maybe some kind of special forces troops operating deep behind enemy lines in some sort of dangerous wilderness, but a gardener? Really? He can, at any time, walk into the house and get a snack. He can walk to the store and buy food, etc. You can impose any rules you want in your universe, however. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Nov 14, 2016 at 14:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Shoddycast made a video about this (well, about Quite from MGS 5 being half-human half-plant) and why it is not possible. Look for "The SCIENCE! - WTF is wrong with Quiet from MGSV?" $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2016 at 14:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If the skin is absorbing more light, it will be dark, not pale. $\endgroup$
    – Samuel
    Nov 14, 2016 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel Quite right! Stupid mistake of mine... I have edited it. $\endgroup$
    – Mirte
    Nov 15, 2016 at 7:04
  • $\begingroup$ Something like this is a minor world feature in the anime Knights of Sidonia. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 15, 2016 at 15:06

5 Answers 5


Suggestion: These abilities come from an engineered symbiote, not engineering of the person

The other answers cover why GMO humans are a complicated issue. That said, it can be somewhat sidestepped. Instead of engineering the person, engineer a symbiotic organism that's compatible with them. It's not unheard of - After all, the bacteria in our gut are symbiotes that break down food for us, and the Mitochondria in every cell of our body is arguably one, too.

A big problem would be the persons immune system fighting back against the symbiote, seeing it is an invading parasite. Maybe this organism is closely engineered to pair with our immune system, or maybe the gardener was born very immunocompromised and was a perfect candidate for the symbiote.

As for specifics on what exactly this thing is, I'd imagine that it's a subcutaneous fungus that ties into the hosts bloodstream. The fungus gets access to all kind of exotic animal-only proteins, and in return the human gets constant glucose production. To make things better, if the fungus detects stress-hormones in its host (Injury, shock, etc,) it can put the host into a deep, low-energy-consumption trance to heal (Additional points for tree-sap base blood clotting factors to seal wounds.)

Since it's a genetically separate organism that doesn't touch the reproductive organs, our human is free to reproduce - if they can find a partner willing to accept their odd skin tone.


You would have to include a lot of additional genetic information to make all the tweaks work. We are talking root level things like chloroplasts and circulatory system. It is extremely likely (like 99.9999999999999999999999999999999999999999%) that the tweaks would end up killing the person. While it is theoretically possible to build a creature with the abilities you have mentioned, the complexity of functions would make him/it extremely prone to debilitating diseases.


Short answer - yes, it's possible, but it complicates things.

Check out Old Man's War and its sequels by John Scalzi. It includes genetically modified human soldiers who are capable of photosynthesis, among other things, but a key point of the system is that these soldiers are too different from baseline humanity to ever reproduce. They're all sterile.

The changes you're thinking of would be possible, but they would also be massively life-altering. A person who underwent these kinds of changes during their life would likely have to go through a long and difficult transition, and almost certainly would not be interfertile with the baseline population. You'd need to address questions like why a person would do this to themselves, or if they were born this way you'd have to address the ethical concerns of creating a genetically modified human who would never be able to engage fully in society.

Unless you want to fully engage in those questions, whether with this individual or with other individuals in the same world, it may be something you just don't want to bring up.


you missed a few big plant features. 1. totipotency, plants can regrow anything. 2. plants can manufacture all the essential amino acids, much fewer problems with malnutrition.

roots and photosynthesis are nice, but their effect will be minor on a soldier becasue they need too much energy compared to what these methods could generate. a person would need a 150 days of full sun over their entire body for evey one day of moderate activity. https://hplusbiopolitics.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/photosyntheti-people/


See my answer on "Plant Based Life Forms: Brain Equivalent"

It addresses three ways of how plants and brains can evolve in one organism (or a symbiote) and could easily be adapted for a humanlike creature.

I'll summarize the relevant information here but your best bet is the link above.

A) Plant people could evolve from the very beginning: think person with chloroplasts

B) Humans mutate chloroplasts, and the fittest to use them survive until plantlike grows occur over generations

C) A plant and an animal form a symbiotic relationship


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